Tag Archives: CRTC

How the Rogers-Shaw deal would affect Global News

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission today begins a five-day hearing into the proposed purchase of Shaw Communications by Rogers. You can follow a live stream online and see the agenda here.

While there are a lot of competition-related concerns about this purchase, and particularly how it will remove a fourth wireless provider in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, the CRTC’s concern in all this is somewhat narrow. Its permission isn’t needed for a wireless, internet or telephone provider to buy another. (The Competition Bureau and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada will undertake their own proceedings to evaluate those concerns, and their approval is also needed before the transaction can proceed.)

Instead, the CRTC’s permission is only required for the transfer of broadcasting assets. Shaw sold its television and radio assets to Corus in 2016, leaving the following:

  • Its licences for television distribution, including Shaw Cable the Shaw Direct satellite TV service
  • Its licences for community television channels tied to those cable distributors
  • Its licences for video on demand and pay-per-view services tied to those cable distributors (Rogers is not acquiring these as it has its own licences)
  • Its licence for a satellite broadcasting distribution relay service, which provides TV signals to other providers
  • Its stake in CPAC

Competition issues will be brought up in discussion of those points. For example, under this deal Rogers would get two thirds ownership of CPAC, giving it effective control (Videotron, Cogeco and Eastlink are also minority owners).

But an issue that hasn’t gotten much attention (besides from the Globe and Mail and a few others) is what this means for Global News.

You see, back in 2017 when the CRTC decided to screw over community television, it put in place a new subsidy system whereby large TV providers can redirect some of the money they would have spent on community television and instead send it to affiliated local TV stations to use for local news. Rogers could give some money to Citytv, Bell could give some money to CTV, Videotron could give some money to TVA, and Shaw could give some money to Corus. Though Shaw and Corus are separate companies, they are both ultimately controlled by the Shaw family, so for the CRTC’s purposes they’re related.

Once Rogers acquires Shaw, it will take the money that went to Corus for Global News and instead redirect it to Citytv stations.

According to CRTC filings, $8.8 million from Shaw Cable and $4.2 million from Shaw Direct were sent to Global for “locally reflective news programming” in 2019-20, for a total of about $12.9 million. That represents about 12 per cent of the $106 million Corus spent on local news in 2019-20.

That would mean significant cuts to Global News, unless Corus just decides to swallow the loss. Since Global as a whole is unprofitable, that seems unlikely.

It’s worth noting that while Corus has pointed this out in a submission, Corus is not on the agenda to appear at the CRTC hearing. Its owner is more interested in the profits from the sale than Corus’s concerns about local news.

The other fund

Now, because there are some private commercial television stations out there that aren’t owned by large cable companies, the CRTC set up a special fund to help them. The Independent Local News Fund is financed by a 0.3% tax on all licensed TV distributors, and is divided among independent TV stations based on the amount of local news they produce.

Because the Rogers-Shaw deal would orphan Global, it could then apply to the ILNF for funding for local news.

But the ILNF’s total budget is $21 million a year ($3 million of which comes from Shaw), so unless it would be willing to part with half its funding, either Global or the other independent stations (or most likely both) would have to lose a lot of money.

When the CRTC approved the purchase of V by Bell Media, V became ineligible for funding from the ILNF, and so its funding was redistributed among the remaining stations. But V only got about $3.2 million from the fund, so there’s a $10 million gap.

The CRTC set the 0.3% tax based on how television stations were owned at the time. A logical solution would be to increase that tax, but that would require a separate hearing, and either a cut to some other contribution line or an increase in costs to television providers that would then be passed on to customers.

Or Canadians could just accept that independent television gets stuck with a big budget cut because Canada’s second-largest communications company wanted to get bigger.

Conservative news-talk TV channel The News Forum seeks must-offer licence from CRTC

You may recall a year ago I wrote about The News Forum, a low-budget Canadian TV channel offered to Bell TV subscribers that broadcast news headlines and a lot of political talk with a clear conservative bent, even being hosted by former conservative politicians like Tony Clement, Danielle Smith and Tanya Granic Allen.

This month, the CRTC published an application by The News Forum for a national news broadcasting licence, similar to that held by CBC News Network and CTV News Channel.

Previously, The News Forum operated as a licence-exempt service, which allowed it to be on TV distribution systems without a licence provided it remain below 200,000 subscribers. With the application, it confirms it has passed that threshold, even though it is only distributed through Bell TV, Telus, SaskTel and Access Communications.

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Cogeco Media/Arsenal Media radio station swap runs into CRTC policy issue

A proposed mutual sale of radio stations between Cogeco Media and Arsenal Media will have to get over a hurdle to get approved by the CRTC, and it depends a lot on how many people live in a small region between Saguenay and Alma.

First announced in May, the agreement sees Arsenal sell CILM-FM (O 98.3) in Saguenay to Cogeco, while Arsenal in turn buys all of Cogeco’s radio stations in the Abitibi region, namely Capitale Rock (CJGO-FM 102.1 La Sarre, CJGO-FM-1 95.7 Rouyn-Noranda and CHGO-FM 95.7 Val-d’Or) and WOW FM (CHOA-FM 95.7 Rouyn-Noranda, CHOA-FM-1 103.5 Amos and CHOA-FM-2 103.9 La Sarre). Arsenal will keep its other Saguenay station, CKGS-FM Hit Country 105.5.

On Tuesday, the CRTC published the applications related to the transfers of ownerships of these stations, and we have more details on the sales:

  • Arsenal pays $1.5 million to acquire CHOA-FM , CJGO-FM and CHGO-FM in Abitibi
  • Cogeco pays $600,000 to acquire CILM-FM in Saguenay
  • The Wow station will be rebranded Plaisir and Capitale Rock rebranded O to join Arsenal’s branded networks (Cogeco keeps the Wow brand)
  • Cogeco will rebrand the Saguenay station to Rythme FM and have it join that network as an owned-and-operated station (it used to be an affiliate), putting it back in the largest market that network was missing in Quebec
  • The transactions are separable — if the CRTC approves one but not the other, that transaction will still go through
  • RNC Media, which provided local news services for the Abitibi stations as part of the agreement when it sold them to Cogeco in 2018, will continue to provide them for Arsenal
  • Cogeco will add CILM-FM to its Cogeco Nouvelles network and add another journalist in the Saguenay region
  • Both organizations are proposing standard tangible benefits, with 3% of the value going to Fonds Radiostar, 1.5% to Musicaction, 1% to discretionary initiatives and 0.5% to the Community Radio Fund of Canada

For Arsenal, the deal should not pose much of an issue since it doesn’t have any assets in the Abitibi region.

But in Saguenay, it’s a different story. Cogeco owns one radio station in Saguenay, CKYK-FM (Kyk 95,7), but it also owns CFGT-FM (Planète 104,5) in Alma, 45 kilometres away near Lac-Saint-Jean.

According to the CRTC’s common ownership policy, one owner normally can’t have more than two stations in the same language on the same band in the same market. Cogeco argues that according to CRTC policy CILM-FM and CFGT-FM are not in the same market (Kyk has a more powerful transmitter and a retransmitter in Alma, so covers both).

The CRTC actually has a policy for cases like this, and it depends on how much overlap there is between stations, measured both by their markets and their signals.

Map of primary coverage areas of CKYK-FM (blue), CFGT-FM (green) and CILM-FM (red)

Under CRTC policy, if there’s more than a 15% overlap, then they are considered part of the same market, and if there’s less than a 5% overlap they aren’t. In between, it depends on where advertisers are from and what news the station broadcasts.

Cogeco’s coverage maps show that CILM-FM Chicoutimi does not cover Alma and CFGT-FM Alma does not cover Chicoutimi, bolstering its claim that they should not be considered to overlap.

Map shows overlap of coverage areas of CFGT-FM (green) and CILM-FM (red)

The two signals do overlap between the two cities, but it’s in a mostly rural area of St-Nazaire and St-Ambroise, with a population under 8,000.

In its application, Cogeco argues the overlap is less than 5% of the population of the primary contour of CILM-FM and about 13.6% of the population of the primary contour of CFGT-FM, and that less than 1% of ad sales from the Alma station come from this area.

The commission counters that Cogeco should have based the percentage on the size of the market (Alma) and not the size of the station’s signal. Using that calculation, the overlap is within that 5-15% grey zone. Cogeco notes in a response that less than 1% of CILM-FM’s ad sales are from Alma.

Setting aside the CRTC’s specific rules, common sense can make both cases in such an argument. On one hand, CFGT-FM clearly markets itself as an Alma station, while CILM-FM clearly targets Saguenay. On the other hand, the overlap in signals is not insignificant, CKYK-FM targets both markets, and plenty of people outside a station’s primary signal contour will still listen to it, especially in an area like Saguenay where there aren’t a plethora of neighbouring markets.

Viability at stake

There’s also the matter of the station’s future. CILM-FM is not a very profitable station (except just barely last year thanks to government pandemic subsidies), and never really has been. In fact, it was the one station owned by Corus in 2010 that wasn’t sold to Cogeco because Cogeco didn’t want it at the time. Corus was considering shutting the station down before a local group of investors stepped in. They eventually resold the station to Arsenal.

Arsenal makes it clear in the application that it would be “difficult” for CILM-FM to reach profitability under its control. The two say that Cogeco, with its bigger pockets and its synergies with other stations in the region, would have a better chance at making the station work.

Similar arguments were not made about the Abitibi stations being sold to Arsenal.

The CRTC will hold a pro forma hearing Dec. 6 to consider the applications. No presentations are planned, unless the commission is convinced of the need for them by the interventions submitted. The commission is accepting comments from the public until Nov. 4, which can be submitted here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

CKHQ-FM Kanesatake gets power increase, protected frequency

The community radio station in the Mohawk community of Kanesatake north of Montreal can breathe a bit easier knowing that it can’t be de facto threatened off the air if someone sets up a new radio station.

On Monday, the CRTC approved an application from CKHQ-FM 101.7 to increase its power from 27 watts (max effective radiated power) to 51 watts.

The increase in power won’t do much for the station’s signal — it will still be almost impossible to catch outside Kanesatake and parts of Oka. But by increasing power to 51 watts, the station’s transmitter changes its class, from low power to Class A1.

Comparison map of CKHQ-FM’s previously approved signal (red and brown) and its new approved signal (blue and green)

The change is significant because low-power stations, by policy, do not operate on protected frequencies. So if someone gets a new licence to operate on a frequency that causes interference to or is caused interference from the low-power station, that station has to change frequency.

That scenario almost came to light in 2018 when an application was filed for a new station in Lachute at 101.7 FM. It would have forced CKHQ to find a new frequency, but with it being so close to Montreal, there aren’t other frequencies available.

In the end, the CRTC rejected the application on its own merits, giving CKHQ another chance.

CKHQ has two years from the date of the decision to apply the new technical parameters. It must also deal with outstanding compliance issues, notably the installation of an emergency alerting system.

Reviving Kanesatake Radio is on Facebook.

What radio executives say about the future of their industry

Late last year, I was asked by my editor at Cartt.ca to write a feature story about branding in commercial radio, to be tied to the CRTC’s review of its commercial radio policy. That story ended up turning into a 10-part series for the website called The Future of Radio, in which I talk to some radio industry executives about how and where things are going.

Here are links to the individual stories (for Cartt.ca subscribers), and below are some point-form comments about the things I learned through this project:

The series

The sources

I spoke to several radio executives for about an hour each for this series, and each conversation was quite insightful. Thanks to them for agreeing to take part:

  • Troy Reeb, Executive Vice President Broadcast Networks, Corus Entertainment
  • Steve Jones, Senior Vice-President Radio, Stingray
  • Rod Schween, President, Jim Pattison Broadcast Group (since renamed Pattison Media)
  • Jon Pole, President, My Broadcasting Corp.
  • Julie Adam, Senior Vice-President of TV & Broadcast, Rogers Sports & Media
  • Kevin Desjardins, President, Canadian Association of Broadcasters

(I tried to get an executive at Bell Media to participate, but things have been a bit chaotic there lately.)

By design, I’ve spoken to people high up at larger national and regional broadcasters, and these stories reflect their views, but those are far from the only voices that deserve to be heard about radio. As the CRTC process continues (replies are due this week), we’ll hear more from groups that are critical of the big players.

The lessons

Some of the things I heard from several radio executives during our talks:

  • Radio brands are boring for a reason. They often include the frequency and the format, or some generic branding like Kiss or Move or The Beat. You need listeners to be able to remember your brand when they fill out radio surveys by Numeris (which is how it’s done in all but the five largest markets).
  • Creating common brands allows for synergy. But it’s not always about common programming. It’s also about saving money on things like imaging — those station ID jingles and promos. When you only have to design a logo or website once for multiple markets, you can save money but also invest more to get better quality and share those costs across multiple stations.
  • Expect more blending of syndication and local. For small-market stations, it just doesn’t make financial sense to have local announcers 24/7. In some, it doesn’t even make much sense to have a local morning show. So big broadcasters are taking a well-produced syndicated or national show and blending it with local news, traffic and weather. We’re also seeing popular morning shows from some markets being edited and repackaged to be used in other markets in the evenings.
  • Moving toward a Canadian radio star system. Both Bell and Corus have created national overnight talk shows for their talk stations, replacing syndicated U.S. programming like Coast to Coast, and other broadcasters are looking at doing their own thing instead of bringing in foreign shows. If they’re going to spend money anyway, they reason, why not spend it on some of their own talent, and give them a larger national audience?
  • The peak hour is getting later. It’s hard to say how much of this will be reversed when we fully emerge from the pandemic, but the peak hour for radio has shifted from about 7am to 8am as people who aren’t commuting don’t have to get up as early. We’re also seeing more listening throughout the day, instead of people abruptly dropping off once their car is in the office parking lot.
  • Radio will follow the platforms. Most broadcasters have kind of given up on trying to create their own digital ecosystems. Instead, they’ll adapt their content to whatever platform people are using. They’ve started up podcast networks, combined forces on the RadioPlayer app (with Bell as the notable exception), and signed up to work on smart speakers. They’re posting to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and whatever else will come next.
  • AM is not the future. It’s not dead yet, and AM stations still rate well in some markets, but the broadcasters aren’t betting on its future. There are no more AM stations in Quebec outside Montreal. Where bandwidth and regulations permit, stations have switched from AM to FM across the country. CBC is replacing low-power AM transmitters with FM ones. And the big players want to be able to move their AM stations to FM as well without having to give up their FM music stations. As a transition measure, HD Radio transmitters in large markets have allowed the big guys to simulcast AM on FM HD, but that’s not a long-term solution, because…
  • Neither is HD Radio. After the disaster that was Digital Audio Broadcasting in the 1990s and early 2000s, broadcasters are hesitant to adopt HD Radio, the technology principally used in the U.S. After a few years of experimentation, there isn’t much hope for its future, for the same reason as DAB failed: A lack of receivers. HD Radio still isn’t as common in cars as it should be, and receivers outside of cars are just about nonexistent. There’s potential for the technology for niche ethnic stations (and some ethnic broadcasters are using digital-only channels for single-language programming) but it’s nowhere close to mainstream. The fact that it’s confusing as well — to tune to CJAD 800 you have to go to 107.3 FM HD Channel 2? — doesn’t help. By the time this might get fixed up, or a new digital technology emerges, it will be easier to deliver audio programming over the internet. (Shout-out to radio broadcast manufacturer Nautel, though, which proposed a very unworkable national network of HD-only stations that would have channels in multiple languages.)
  • But maybe smart speakers. There was a noticeable uptick in smart speaker listening as people stayed home during the pandemic (and realized they don’t have other radio receivers at home). There was a big worry that as people went toward internet-based devices for their audio needs, they might choose things like Spotify over local radio. So there’s a big effort to ensure smart speakers tune to radio first.
  • Don’t expect a Canadian Spotify. I asked several of the executives, if they’re getting all this unfair competition from Spotify and Apple Music and the rest, why don’t they just launch competing platforms? The answer is they lack the scale to make it profitable. The technology wouldn’t be difficult to implement, but even with tariffs that the music industry has mocked as laughably low, Spotify and its peers struggle to make money, and there isn’t much hope a Bell or Rogers version would be more successful. Quebecor is trying with its QUB Musique app, and Stingray has several streaming music channels, but otherwise everyone is sticking with radio, even digital-only radio channels (which, because the user does not control the playlist, has a different tariff scheme).
  • The industry wants more consolidation. One issue brought up in filings to the commission is its limits on local ownership — currently 3-4 stations depending on market size, and no more than two on any one band in any language. The CAB has proposed a new formula that would allow some broadcasters to own up to half the stations in a market. Bell wants to eliminate ownership limits completely. Allowing AM stations to move to FM is an excuse given, but others say radio needs to have fewer owners to be more competitive. (The change isn’t just supported by the big guys, but several smaller owners also agree with consolidation because it means more potential buyers for their stations, which increases their value.)
  • Paperwork is a big problem. Both large and small broadcasters spend a lot of human resources just meeting the CRTC’s reporting requirements. In some cases, they’re necessary, like providing annual financial statements or lists of songs they have broadcast. In other cases, they’re redundant or of limited use. Some broadcasters proposed ways of cutting the paperwork burden, but many told me they just wish the CRTC was itself more efficient, processed applications more quickly, and wasn’t such a bottleneck in plans to launch, acquire or change stations.

There were also plenty of things that weren’t surprising. Broadcasters want lower quotas (dropping CanCon to 25% of songs from 35%), interest groups want quotas maintained. Big broadcasters want fewer regulations for themselves and more for their foreign digital-only competitors.

And, despite everything, everyone believes that radio has a future. Because otherwise they wouldn’t be in the game.

Rogers to buy Shaw for $26 billion — but will regulators agree?

There are days you think Canada’s media and telecom industries are about as converged as they can be. And then another megatransaction gets announced that you think couldn’t possibly be approved by the government. And then it is.

Transactions like Bell buying Astral Media, Bell buying MTS, Rogers buying Mobilicity, Postmedia buying Sun Media, and all the other transactions that brought us to this point.

So the news that Shaw has agreed to a $26-billion sale to Rogers maybe shouldn’t come as quite a shock. But as the government professes to be pro-consumer, particularly when it comes to wireless services, can we really expect this deal to be approved?

Here are the stumbling blocks the companies will have to get over:

  1. Freedom Mobile. In Ontario, Alberta and B.C., Freedom is the fourth large wireless carrier, the last surviving one from that era of increased competition after Mobilicity and Public Mobile were scooped up by the big three. Rogers, which is already Canada’s largest mobile provider, apparently believes it can just keep Freedom as part of the deal, with nothing more than a promise that it won’t raise prices for three years. If the federal government is to be taken seriously on wireless competition, it can’t possibly let that stand. It could force Rogers to sell Freedom to some other party (Quebecor? Xplornet? Cogeco? Some random rich guy?), or it could come to some agreement where Rogers sheds just enough Freedom customers to another party, like Bell did when it bought MTS.
  2. Corus. Shaw and Corus are separate companies, with separate boards of directors and different shareholders, but both are controlled by the Shaw family. The CRTC treats them as if they’re the same for competition reasons. The issue here is that, as part of the transaction, the Shaw family gets two seats on the Rogers board. That doesn’t give them control of Rogers, but does it present enough of a competition concern to warrant increased scrutiny?
  3. Cable and satellite. Because Shaw and Rogers have essentially split the country geographically, with Shaw serving western Canada and Rogers serving eastern Canada, there’s not much overlap in terms of wired coverage to deal with. But these are still big companies. Shaw has 1.4 million cable TV subscribers and more than 600,000 satellite TV subscribers, making almost $4 billion in annual revenue on TV services alone. Add that to Rogers’s 1.5 million TV subscribers and $3.5 billion revenue, and you get a company 30% larger than Bell on that front. That’s a change in dynamic in bargaining position when, say, negotiating carriage contracts with TV services. There’s also the fact that if Rogers buys Shaw’s satellite service, that’s one less TV service option for subscribers in Rogers territory. They go from having to choose between Rogers, Bell Fibe/satellite and Shaw Direct to having to choose between Rogers and Bell alone.
  4. Sheer size. Rogers has $15 billion in annual revenue. Shaw has $5 billion. Combined, they still fall short of Bell’s $24 billion, but not by much. No doubt Rogers will use the need to compete against Bell as an argument for approving the transaction, because the only way to fight ownership consolidation is more ownership consolidation.
  5. Jobs. Rogers has promised to create 3,000 “net new jobs” in western Canada as part of the deal. But it also says “synergies are expected to exceed $1 billion annually within two years of closing.” I’m curious what synergies can be achieved without cutting any jobs.

Mobile service seems like the only potential dealbreaker here, unless there are some minor assets that compete directly that would also need to be divested. Rogers would probably be fine ditching Freedom if that was a condition of approval.

Will political and regulatory forces accept such a deal? We’ll have to see. Recent experience suggests they probably will, and companies don’t go through this kind of trouble if they don’t think a deal can succeed. (At least that’s what I’d like to say, but Rogers’ proposed purchase of Cogeco fell flat, so…)

CRTC rejects request to reduce local programming quota for TSN Radio 690

A request from Bell Media to reduce the amount of local programming it is required to broadcast on TSN Radio 690 AM in Montreal has been rejected by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

In a decision published on Wednesday renewing the station’s licence until 2027, the CRTC found it already had enough flexibility in its current quota and allowing this change in its licence — going from 96 hours a week to 63 hours of local programming — would undermine the reason the quota was established in the first place.

Commercial AM radio stations in Canada generally don’t have requirements for local programming. As we saw with the (coincidental) format changes for TSN stations in other markets this week, you can run whatever you want on AM. Requirements for FM stations are a bit more strict — you have to have at least 42 hours a week of local programming (a third of regulated hours) to be able to solicit local advertising on a station.

But TSN 690 (CKGM) had special conditions of licence imposed in 2013 as part of a deal that allowed Bell to own four English-language stations in Montreal after it purchased Astral Media (which at the time owned CJAD, CHOM and Virgin Radio). Bell had originally proposed to turn TSN into a French-language station to get around that problem, but after seeing the public outrage that caused, they asked for an exemption to the policy during their second try. Bell promised to keep TSN as a sports radio station, and agreed to a CRTC request for a local programming quota roughly equal to what they were broadcasting at the time.

“The station’s condition of licence relating to local programming was an important factor in the approval of an exception to the common ownership policy,” the decision reads. “By authorizing at this time the requested amendment to this condition of licence, which was imposed in 2013 to mitigate the impact of the exception to the common ownership policy, the Commission would substantially reduce the mitigation measure put in place to justify such an exception. Therefore, the Commission is of the view that reducing CKGM’s local programming requirement is not appropriate.”

In its application, Bell had argued the quota caused problems during weeks when the Canadiens weren’t playing. They said this came to a head during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, when it couldn’t broadcast every game because it would have violated the quota. Instead, the station ran some rerun programming in the evening.

That argument didn’t sway the commission. While it acknowledged that the quota would “bring challenges to CKGM” during certain times of the year, “the station can broadcast 30 hours of non-local programming per broadcast week out of a possible total of 126 hours. The Commission considers that this level allows for a significant amount of non-local content and provides sufficient flexibility for the station’s programming offering.”

The 30 hours a week comes out to about four and a half hours a day, more than enough to have a non-local game every night, a couple of NFL games on the weekend and a Blue Jays game or two.

The decision is not directly related to the cuts at other TSN stations this week — this application was originally filed in 2019 and published in November.

The CRTC did agree to another licence amendment proposed by TSN — eliminating the need for additional $245,000 in Canadian content contributions from 2013 to 2020. The commission determined that the money had been paid and the licence condition was no longer necessary.

Kanesatake radio station applies to increase power, protect frequency

CKHQ-FM, Kanesatake’s community radio station, has struggled to keep itself going since it was founded in 1988. But with the help of some broadcasting experts, it has presented a relaunch plan to the CRTC, through two applications published on Monday.

The first is a transfer of ownership, from CKHQ United Voices Radio, owned by resident James Nelson, to Mohawk Multi Media, a non-profit corporation whose membership is open to all community members.

The second is a technical change: The new station would maintain its frequency of 101.7 MHz, but with an effective radiated power of 51 watts, and a height above average terrain of 57 metres. The station’s transmitter would be located at the Riverside Elders Home at 518 Rang Ste-Philomène, along the river about two kilometres southwest of the old location. The studio would also be located at a new building to be constructed on land next to the elders home.

The station has budgeted $500,000 in capital costs for studio and transmitter.

Comparison map of CKHQ-FM’s approved signal (red and brown) and its proposed signal (blue and green)

The increased power would mean a better signal within the community, and more people being able to listen in adjacent ones like Oka, Hudson, and maybe parts of Vaudreuil.

But the most significant change would be on the regulatory level. Stations at 50 watts or below are considered low-power unprotected stations, which means another station can apply for a licence for that frequency or an adjacent one and bump it off that frequency. In most areas that wouldn’t be an issue, but being so close to Montreal (and not that far from Ottawa), there are no other frequencies available it can realistically move to, so such a situation would force it off the air.

That almost happened in 2018 when a group proposed a Christian music station in Lachute on 101.7 FM. The application was denied, because the commission found the quality of the application lacking. But nothing prevented anyone else from trying again.

By going to 51 watts, CKHQ-FM would move from low-power unprotected status to Class A1, which means any proposed new stations would have to protect it from interference.

Projected interference zones for CKHQ-FM.

Though in theory the new signal would extend to much of Vaudreuil and St-Placide, practically it still won’t go too far beyond Oka and the community of Hudson across the river, because of interference from other stations, most significantly CIBL-FM, the Montreal community station on the same frequency at 101.5 MHz.

History

After years of inactivity, CKHQ-FM showed promise when it applied for and received a new licence from the CRTC in 2014. When I visited the station shortly thereafter, its eager staff had cleaned up the rat droppings of the old studio building and gotten it back on the air.

But a flood in July 2017 destroyed most of the transmitting equipment, knocking the station off the air again.

Sylvain Gaspé, an engineer who grew up in Kanesatake and got his start at that radio station, began leading the efforts to bring it back, under the branding of Reviving Kanesatake Radio. In the spring of 2019, a temporary station was set up to offer flood information to the community, and on April 2, 2020, Gaspé brought the station back on the air.

The new entity is separate from the old one, but has the full support of both the current owner and the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake. Because transfers of ownership require CRTC approval first, the station is technically still owned and managed by Nelson’s United Voices corporation, but Gaspé’s Mohawk Multi Media has been mandated to actually do the work. Officially, a transfer of assets has taken place, but because the equipment was destroyed the actual value of those assets is $0.

The new non-profit’s voting membership is open to Kanesatake members with certificate of Indian status, residents of Kanesatake, and “honorary members accepted by the majority of members.” It has five members of the board, including Gaspé and three residents of Kanesatake. All five are Mohawk.

Programming

Don’t expect this station to have much in the way of full-time staff or professional-sounding programming. This will remain a small community station largely run by volunteers. But the application to the CRTC includes some programming commitments, including:

  • 5 hours a week of news
  • 58 hours a week of pop, rock and dance music
  • 38 hours a week of country music
  • 17 hours a week of Indigenous music
  • 15% of songs broadcast performed or composed by Indigenous artists
  • 7 hours a week coming from Kahnawake’s K103
  • 30.5 hours a week in Mohawk, including “incorporating the Mohawk language within the simplest tasks of radio broadcasts, such as the time, weather and station identifications.”
  • 1 hour a week in French

Note that these are projected averages and not necessarily minimums. What actual requirements are to be set will be up to the CRTC, consistent with the Native Broadcasting Policy, for which a review is currently underway.

The CRTC has scheduled a hearing for March 30 to hear these applications. Because no oral presentations are expected, the hearing will be in name only and only to satisfy a legal requirement to hold one. Comments on either application (which are not dependent on each other — the commission could approve one but not the other) are being accepted until Feb. 25, 2020 at 8pm ET/5pm PT, and can be filed here (Application 2020-0751-7 is for the transfer of ownership, Application 2020-0420-9 is for the power increase and transmitter change).

Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.

CJMS 1040 goes off the air after court rejects appeal of CRTC decision

CJMS 1040 AM has gone off the air again, and this time it could be for good.

On Dec. 22, a three-judge panel of the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed an application by CJMS owner Groupe Média PAM Inc. for leave to appeal a decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that refused to renew the station’s licence.

Judges Marc Nadon, Richard Boivin and Marianne Rivoalen rejected the request by CJMS to overturn the decision and keep the station on the air.

On Sept. 14, two weeks after the licence expired (and after a first attempt was rejected as not following proper procedure), Judge Denis Pelletier granted a temporary injunction allowing the station to keep operating while the application to appeal was heard. With the decision rendered, that injunction becomes moot and CJMS was forced to shut down.

CJMS’s argument was that the CRTC treated it unfairly, and should not have given any weight to licence violations committed by the station’s previous owner (Jean Ernest Pierre, who also owns Haitian station CJWI 1410 AM, bought CJMS in 2014 after the last time the CRTC threatened to pull its licence).

The decision is unsurprising. In two previous cases cited by CJMS in its application, the court also sided with the CRTC and ordered the stations off the air.

Meanwhile, the CJMS brand continues as an online-only station run by former host Jocelyn Benoit. On the same day the court rendered its decision, Benoit announced the appointment of a vice-president, Chantal Normandin.

TSN 690 asks CRTC to reduce quota for local programming

UPDATE (Feb. 12, 2021): The CRTC has rejected the request.

In 2013, when Bell Media acquired Astral Media, it made a promise: In exchange for keeping TSN 690 as a fourth English Montreal radio station, one more than what would usually be permitted under the CRTC’s common ownership policy, it would commit to keeping the station running as a sports talk station, a format that has earned CKGM a small but loyal audience over the previous decade.

On the last day of the CRTC hearing on the (second) application to acquire Astral, Bell also agreed to a commitment, proposed by commission chairperson Jean-Pierre Blais, that TSN 690 maintain its 96 hours a week of local programming:

7775   THE CHAIRPERSON (Jean-Pierre Blais): Okay.

7776   So now I’m going to go even further down the road of analysis and we are obviously in the option of an approval and then there are some issues that we need to tidy up.

7777   On CKGM, how many hours of local programming are there? Could somebody give me that?

7778   MR. GORDON (Chris Gordon, head of radio and local stations for Bell Media): I believe it’s 96 hours of local programming.

7779   THE CHAIRPERSON: And would you be able to accept — how would you react if we imposed that as a condition of license on that service?

7780   MR. GORDON: We would accept.

7781   THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay.

When the CRTC approved the sale, in which Bell would acquire CJAD, Virgin Radio 95.9 and CHOM 97.7 from Astral, it required Bell to change TSN 690’s licence to impose requirements including that local programming quota (which is not standard for AM radio stations). As of January 2014, TSN 690 has had the requirement as part of its licence.

With the licence up for renewal (it was supposed to expire in August, but the CRTC has pushed that to Feb. 28), Bell has decided the 96-hour requirement is too onerous and wants it reduced.

That application has been posted separately as a request to amend the station’s licence.

“With respect to local programming, to the best of our knowledge no other commercial AM station has a set number of local programming hours or even a local programming requirement,” Bell Media writes in its application, glossing over the reason why this special requirement was imposed in the first place. “Indeed, the Commercial Radio Policy only provides that for an AM station, local programming requirements will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, as set out in the Commission’s standard conditions of licences that apply to licensees of all commercial AM and FM stations, FM stations are only required to air a minimum of 42 hours of local programming during any broadcast week in order to solicit or accept local advertising.”

Bell instead proposes that CKGM’s local programming quota be reduced from 96 hours a week (averaging 13.7 hours a day) to 63 hours a week (9 hours a day).

TSN 690 says it currently broadcasts local programming generally from 6am to midnight on weekdays, plus 6-10 hours on weekends, particularly weekend mornings. It’s unclear how this would change under a reduced quota.

Bell says the main reason it wants to cut its minimum local programming quota is so it can air more non-local live sports programming, like NFL games, Blue Jays games, IIHF tournaments and NHL games that don’t involve the Montreal Canadiens.

It gives an example of a situation where that quota prevented it from airing an important sporting event:

A recent example of this situation was the NHL’s 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues in June of this year. As a result of airing the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors during the same broadcast week, CKGM did not have the flexibility to also air game seven of the Stanley Cup Final as this would have put that week’s 96 hour local programming requirement in jeopardy. Instead of airing the NHL game — a highly attractive program offering for our audience — CKGM aired repeat local programming, thereby depriving CKGM’S NHL fans of live coverage of one the most important sporting events of the year.

Bell also says lowering the quota would mean airing more Blue Jays games (from less than 50 per season to more than 70).

It sounds reasonable, maybe, but you could imagine the worry that Bell would simply produce less local programming if given this additional flexibility. TSN 690 is not a money maker and I’m sure Bell would be happy to save a few dollars in the evening when it can just run content from elsewhere.

On the other hand, set the conditions of licence too high and Bell could decide it’s not worth the trouble and just shut the station down.

I tried asking Bell for an interview about the programming plans for the station, but the response I got back was this:

We have no comment beyond the application.

The application (#2019-0857-6) is posted here and accepts comments until 8pm ET on Nov. 30. You can file comments here. Note that all comments sent to the CRTC become part of the public record, including contact info.

What’s in the proposed new Broadcasting Act

The federal government has tabled legislation to rewrite the Broadcasting Act. Bill C-10 has a long list of amendments that change wording in the act and it’s a bit confusing to get through. So here’s a list of what’s actually in the bill (based on my Twitter thread from yesterday):

  • Creates a new definition of “online undertaking” meaning “an undertaking for the transmission or retransmission of programs over the Internet for reception by the public by means of broadcasting receiving apparatus” — in other words, an online broadcaster, using the same vague wording as for traditional broadcasters but presumably including services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube. Such “undertakings” would not need to be licensed to operate, nor would they pay fees to the CRTC, but the commission can regulate them, impose Canadian content or funding obligations, and demand information including confidential financial information.
  • A specific exemption for content posted to a “social media service” that excludes such content from the definition of broadcaster for the purpose of the act.
  • Gives the CRTC the power to impose fines on broadcasters. Currently, the commission cannot impose “administrative monetary penalties” on broadcasters like they can on things like spammers. They’ve gotten around this by imposing additional financial contributions as conditions of licence when licenses are renewed. With this change it could impose fines directly, up to $25,000 for a first offence or $50,000 for subsequent ones, for a specific set of reasons.
  • Explicitly state that the broadcasting system serves all Canadians, “including Canadians from racialized communities and Canadians of diverse ethnocultural backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, abilities and disabilities, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and ages.” The CRTC already respects these values, so it probably won’t change anything, but specific reference to things like sexual orientations could be cited in discussions of setting new policies or court challenges to CRTC decisions.
  • Explicitly mention news. Right now the act only mentions obligations to news for the CBC specifically. The new act would say that programming provided by the entire system should as a matter of policy “include programs produced by Canadians that cover news and current events — from the local and regional to the international — and that reflect the viewpoints of Canadians, including the viewpoints of Indigenous persons and of Canadians from racialized communities and diverse ethnocultural backgrounds.”
  • Eliminate the seven-year maximum length of licenses. The CRTC has already started reducing licence terms, generally five years now for TV licenses. Under the new act, they could set unlimited terms but also wouldn’t have to wait five years to make changes to licenses.
  • Codifies how the CRTC deals with confidential information, including explicitly allowing it to share said information with Statistics Canada and the Competition Bureau.
  • Give the government more time to overturn CRTC decisions related to awarding, renewing or amending licences or referring them back to the commission for reconsideration. The 90-day deadline would now be 180 days.

And some minor changes:

  • Change the procedure for orders from the government. Instead of being referred to a House of Commons committee with a 40-day notice, the orders would need to be published and have a 30-day notice.
  • Moves article 9(1)h of the act, which gives the CRTC the power to require distributors carry certain programming, to a new section, requiring several amendments to other laws that reference it.

If that seems like it’s not that much and very unspecific, that’s true. The act only gives general policies and creates legal powers. A lot of the more interesting stuff related to policy will be done through a policy direction to the CRTC, which the minister says will be done once the amendments to the act are passed. There are also other bills to come including amendments to the Copyright Act.

Then, the job of interpreting the new policy and actually setting new regulations will be up to the CRTC.

Among the things we don’t find in this bill:

  • Changes to copyright law, or anything that would change how Google and Facebook deal with content
  • A better definition of broadcasting that would make it clear what is regulated and what is not
  • A definition of social media that would let us answer if, for example, YouTube is a social media platform or if it’s both social media and an online broadcaster depending on content
  • Anything new regulating social media
  • Any policy direction to the CRTC
  • Any substantial changes to how traditional television and radio is regulated
  • Any change to the CBC’s structure or mandate
  • Any consumer protection measures
  • Any measures related to sales taxes for online broadcasters

Compared to what was recommended in the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel report in January, it’s not quite as bold, but there are several elements in there, including the most important one giving the CRTC the power to regulate online media (though the commission would have argued that it already had that power).

Now we’ll see what terms the CRTC set for Netflix et al, and if they’ll agree to them.

OMNI adds Arabic, Filipino national newscasts as new licence term begins

Anchor Reham Al-Azem hosts OMNI News Arabic from the Montreal studio.

As of Sept. 1, the OMNI television channels have entered into a new CRTC licence term, which means a higher wholesale per-subscriber fee ($0.19 per month, up from $0.12) and some new obligations, including more news.

OMNI made good on that last part last week by launching OMNI News in Arabic and Filipino (Tagalog). Like the existing Italian, Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese newscasts, which don’t look like they’re changing, the new newscasts have journalists in different cities. I was told they wouldn’t have anchors, but it’s clear they do. OMNI News Arabic was hosted its first week by Reham Al-Azem out of the Montreal studio (built for the former Breakfast Television Montreal), while OMNI News Filipino was hosted by Rhea Santos in Vancouver.

Both newscasts are also produced in part out of Toronto.

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CJMS 1040 goes off the air … and then back on the air

Having been denied their licence renewal by the CRTC, CJMS 1040 AM in St-Constant spent the last six hours of its licence term on Monday reminiscing about its past and talking to country music artists and others about what the station has done but also about its plan to become an online-only streaming station.

At 12:00:38, the host was cut off mid-sentence saying goodbye, and there was just dead air.

But by Tuesday morning, there was audio again at 1040 AM, as if nothing had happened.

Owner Jean Ernest Pierre told me in a brief email he received authorization late Monday to continue operating. He didn’t expand on that.

As I explain in this story for Cartt.ca, CJMS’s filings with the Federal Court of Appeal were deficient, so had not yet been accepted as of Thursday. The CRTC said it was aware of the appeal (and lack of decision). “The Commission is monitoring the situation and will take additional steps if necessary,” a spokesperson said.

According to the filings provided by the court, Groupe Médias Pam (which is CJMS’s official licensee) is arguing that the CRTC unfairly took into account licence violations committed by the station’s previous owner and failed to show “procedural fairness” that would have called for progressive discipline before refusing to renew a licence.

The station raised the same argument at the hearing, but the CRTC countered in its decision that “when the licensee acquired the station in 2014, the licensee was informed of CJMS’s previous non-compliance.”

Indeed, in that 2014 decision allowing Pierre to buy CJMS from previous owner Alexandre Azoulay for $15,000, the CRTC said this:

The Commission emphasizes the importance it places on a licensee’s fulfillment of its regulatory obligations. It is the licensee’s responsibility to ensure that it is aware of and respects its regulatory obligations at all times. In this case, Groupe Médias must comply with the terms and conditions of licence set out in Appendix 1 to this decision, with the CJMS code of ethics set out in Appendix 2 and with the orders set out in Appendix 3 and Appendix 4. The Commission reminds Groupe Médias that in addition to complying with the appendices to this decision, it must comply with the Regulations at all times.

The commission does not explicitly state that violations by previous owners are taken into account when evaluating whether a station should lose its licence, but Pierre had to be aware the station was on thin ice, with short-term licence renewals issued in 2014 and again in 2018.

In arguing for a stay of the CRTC’s decision, CJMS notes the precedent of cases involving Toronto’s CKLN-FM 88.1 and the Aboriginal Voices Radio Network. One of the filings even accidentally refers to CKLN where it should refer to CJMS.

In both those cases, the court did halt enforcement of the CRTC’s decision, but in both those cases it eventually sided with the CRTC and those stations were forced off the air.

You can read the CJMS appeal documents here.

UPDATE (Sept. 11): The station went off the air again on Thursday. A Facebook post says it’s a temporary shutdown for maintenance, but that’s some suspicious timing.

UPDATE (Nov. 25): On Sept. 14, the Federal Court of Appeal issued an order maintaining CJMS’s licence and suspending the CRTC’s non-renewal decision until the court decides whether to proceed with the appeal. Judge J.D. Denis Pelletier wrote:

Le dossier de requête visant un sursis intérimaire est acceptée pour dépôt — La demande de sursis intérimaire de la décision CRTC 2020-239 est accordée — La licence de radiodiffusion de l’entreprise de programmation de radio commerciale de langue française CJMS Saint-Constant (Québec) est réputée demeurer en vigueur depuis son expiration, jusqu’à ce que soit décidée la requête visant la permission de pourvoir en appel la décision du du conseil … – Le tout sans frais.

CRTC gives Haitian radio station CPAM 1410 another chance

Almost a month after refusing to renew the licence of country music station CJMS 1040 for failure to abide by its licence conditions, the CRTC has ended the suspense of what it would do for sister station CPAM Radio Union (CJWI) 1410, which was brought before the commission on the same day to answer the same apparent compliance issues.

In a decision published Thursday, the commission has decided to give that station another chance, renewing its licence for two years and imposing special conditions including three mandatory orders (even though it found the station in breach of two of its three previous mandatory orders), a requirement to broadcast their non-compliance, and a de facto fine of $2,836 (for the harm done to the Canadian music industry by not playing enough Canadian music).

The renewal comes despite the commission finding that “the licensee seems to lack both the willingness and the knowledge required to operate the station in compliance.”

So what was the big difference between the two stations? Why was one renewed and the other not? Partly because of their history (CJMS had more issues dating from before it was taken over by CPAM), but partly because the CRTC felt that the Haitian station made an effort to solve its issues with the commission:

However, after hearing the licensee during the public hearing, the Commission acknowledges that, despite its belated efforts, the licensee contacted Commission staff many times to obtain clarifications on its music programming obligations. The Commission notes that the licensee appears to now better understand the nature of the music categories and the appropriate manner to compile them. Further, the licensee mentioned multiple time to the Commission during the public hearing that it, if in doubt, it would contact the Commission to verify its understanding.

Although the licensee has a history of severe and repeated non-compliance, it demonstrated a willingness to continue operating CJWI in compliance and proposed additional corrective measures to try to comply with its obligations.

Of course, CPAM also owns CJMS and I don’t see how its efforts to save CJWI are more significant. The history (CJMS had been threatened with licence revocation before) is probably the more important factor, and the fact that CJWI serves a marginalized community can’t be overlooked. Had it been a simple commercial station the commission may have had less patience.

A two-year renewal and mandatory orders suggest this may be CJWI’s last chance to satisfy the commission. If the same issues come up next time, they’re probably looking at non-renewal, no matter how much the community may care about it.

In the meantime, as I’m writing this, CJMS is still on the air, with two days left in its licence. Programming director Jocelyn Benoit says the station will continue as an online-only broadcast as of Sept. 1, and has renamed its Facebook group and page from “CJMS 1040” to “CJMS 2.0”.

CRTC orders CJMS 1040 AM to shut down Aug. 31

After more than a decade of the station failing to meet its licence obligations, the CRTC decided Friday it has had enough, and refused to renew the licence of St-Constant country music station CJMS 1040 AM. As a result, it will no longer legally be allowed on the air after Aug. 31.

The decision reads:

In light of the severity and recurrence of the current instances of non-compliance; of the station’s history of non-compliance and the licensee’s actions, which demonstrate a poor understanding of its conditions of licence and regulatory obligations, or a lack of willingness to respect them; of its inability to implement the necessary measures to ensure compliance; and of its disregard for the Commission’s authority and for its responsibilities as a broadcaster, the Commission is convinced that the imposition of conditions of licence or of mandatory orders, a suspension, or a short-term licence renewal would not be effective measures. Consequently, the Commission finds that not renewing the licence is the only appropriate measure in the circumstances.

In a separate decision also released Friday, the commission also refused to renew the licence of troublesome station CFOR-FM Maniwaki.

CJMS, which launched in 1999, has a long history of licence compliance issues, and might have had the licence revoked in 2013 had its owner of the time, Alexandre Azoulay, not agreed to sell it to Jean Ernest Pierre, owner of Haitian station CJWI (CPAM 1410). When CJMS was last asked to appear before the commission, Azoulay surprised the commissioners by blaming his father’s dementia for the compliance issues.

There’s also the fact that Michel Mathieu, a broadcast consultant who was the original licensee of CJMS, filed a strongly-worded intervention demanding the CRTC pull the license.

The decision should worry Pierre about the future of CJWI, which like CJMS has a long list of compliance issues and was the subject of mandatory orders that appeared to be insufficient to keep it in line. But CJWI has more original programming and is more vital to its community than CJMS, and the fact that the CRTC didn’t issue a decision Friday, giving the stations exactly one month before they were to shut down, suggests it might be given one last chance.

CJMS could appeal the decision, by asking the federal government to intervene or by asking the federal court to overturn the decision if it can find some error in law. Pierre told the Journal de Montréal he’s looking at options. But neither are likely to succeed. Instead, if someone wants to start a new commercial radio station serving St-Constant, there’s a transmitter that can probably be bought for pretty cheap.

Other country options

So if you’re a fan of country music in Montreal, where can you go for your fix? There aren’t any big commercial country stations here like in other Canadian markets, but you have options besides going online:

UPDATE (Aug. 29): It looks like for the time being the plan is to keep CJMS running as an online-only radio station once its licence expires. Program director Jocelyn Benoit posted on Facebook that it would continue streaming as of Sept. 1, and he renamed the station’s Facebook group and page from “CJMS 1040” to “CJMS 2.0”.

UPDATE (Sept. 1): CJMS went off the air at 38 seconds after midnight on Sept. 1. I recorded its final minute on air, which ended with announcer Jocelyn Benoit being cut off mid-sentence.

A new website is being worked on at cjms.ca.