Quebecor’s decision to pull TVA Sports from Bell TV sparked a war of words, with both sides making claims (TVA’s more publicly), some of them contradictory. Who’s right and who’s wrong in this battle? I’ll do my best to break down some of those arguments below, and update this as more come to light:
Updated April 12 with court ruling and TVA Sports returning to Bell TV
Ce n'était pas du bluff. Tva Sports non disponible sur Bell. pic.twitter.com/ivPJbid5R8
— Antoine Deshaies (@antoinedeshaies) April 10, 2019
Four days after it threatened Bell subscribers with on-air messages, TVA pulled TVA Sports from Bell TV on Wednesday at 7pm, as scheduled, the start time for the NHL playoffs.
Bell immediately announced that it would make Sportsnet, Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360, which with CBC and City comprise all the channels carrying NHL playoff games, free for subscribers “temporarily.”
Québecor refuse l’accès à sa chaîne TVA Sports aux clients Bell Télé. C’est une mesure illégale. Bell veut s’assurer que les fans de hockey puissent regarder les séries et offre temporairement les chaînes Sportsnet, Sportsnet One et Sportsnet 360 sans frais supplémentaires.
— Bell (@Bell_FR) April 10, 2019
Quebecor, meanwhile, issued a statement saying it was disappointed it couldn’t reach a deal.
On Thursday, the CRTC announced that it was calling Groupe TVA to a hearing in Gatineau on April 17 to explain itself, and threatened to either issue a mandatory order (which would be enforceable in federal court) or even suspend TVA Sports’s broadcasting licence in light of the decision to ignore its warnings about pulling service during a dispute.
In court, as Bell tried to get a court injunction for TVA to stop what it’s doing, Quebecor lawyers offered a truce, to bring back the channel at 6pm and maintain it until April 23 as the two sides negotiate with the help of the CRTC. Bell accepted on condition that TVA Sports accept a court order requiring the re-establishing of the signal, but Quebecor refused that condition.
On Friday, the court granted Bell’s request for an injunction, ordering TVA Sports re-established on Bell TV by 6pm, but did not order Quebecor to cease its “Fair Value” campaign, which Bell says is false and defamatory. TVA complied with the request, and TVA Sports returned to Bell TV by 6pm.
In addition to ensuring Bell TV subscribers could get access to NHL playoff games, Bell Media acquired the rights to two additional Montreal Impact MLS games, another TVA Sports exclusivity, so they can be broadcast on TSN. That pushed the date of the next Impact game only broadcast on TVA Sports to April 28. Bell TV had said it would make TSN also available for free for Montreal Impact fans.
Bell customers got a pretty scary-looking message during the Canadiens-Maple Leafs game Saturday night on TVA Sports: The sports channel, which has the French-language rights to all NHL playoff games, will be removed from Bell TV as a way for Bell to “punish” those subscribers.
TVA also aired the graphic during La Voix, Quebec’s most popular TV show, on Sunday.
Bell said not only is this message not true, it would be against CRTC regulations. The CRTC wrote to both parties twice to say that during their dispute, TVA is required to keep offering its channels to Bell and Bell is required to keep distributing them.
TVA said it doesn’t care, it’s pulling its signal anyway. Which means this dispute will quickly escalate in the legal and regulatory sphere.
Except it’s already escalated there, because this is a battle being fought on multiple fronts:
- An existing CRTC process in which TVA complains of unfair treatment (currently in the reply phase)
- A TVA lawsuit against Bell demanding compensation for its unfair packaging
- A Bell request for injunction against TVA demanding the signal be returned
- An emergency CRTC hearing called for next week in which TVA has been ordered to explain itself
- Direct negotiations between Bell and TVA to reach a deal on carriage
- TVA’s media campaign and Bell’s press releases in response, fighting in the public arena
- Pierre Karl Péladeau’s lobbying of federal politicians to make changes to the CRTC’s dispute resolution process
- Programming changes at Bell Media and packaging changes at Bell TV to mitigate the loss of TVA Sports for Bell customers
How long Bell customers will actually be without TVA Sports is anyone’s guess. But TVA says it’s prepared to do whatever it takes.
(You can read more about my interview with TVA chief operating officer Martin Picard in this story at Cartt.ca, but I have lots of details below about the conflict.)
Two years after requesting to shut down more than 40 over-the-air retransmitters of CTV and CTV2 stations as part of its licence renewal, Bell Media has applied to the CRTC to shut down more than 28 more of them, saying they have little viewership, provide no original programming and are expensive to maintain.
The application published on Monday includes six transmitters Bell Media said it wanted to shut down in places like Swift Current and Flin Flon during the process to reconsider its licence renewal.
If this application is approved, Bell Media will have dropped from 126 transmitters for its CTV and CTV2 stations before 2016 to under 50.
“With the increased focus on the financing, production and distribution of programming content, signal distribution through a repeater network is becoming an increasingly lower priority and an outmoded business model as Canadians have other ways to access television programming,” Bell Media says in its application.
The shutdowns are being prompted by the federal government’s new DTV transition plan, which will require stations to change channels to free up spectrum that is being auctioned to wireless providers. Consistent with that plan, Bell plans for the shutdowns to occur mostly in 2021.
These are the transmitters Bell is proposing shutting down, along with their dates, their transmitter power (maximum ERP) and the population in their coverage area, according to Bell Media’s estimates.
Rebroadcasters of CJCH-DT Halifax and CJCB-TV Sydney (CTV Atlantic):
- CJCB-TV-3 Dingwall, 3 December 2021 (64W, 785 people)
- CJCH-TV-3 Valley Colchester County, 3 December 2021 (150W, 32,957 people)
- CJCH-TV-4 Bridgetown, 3 December 2021 (58W, 3,823 people)
Rebroadcasters of CKCW-DT Moncton and CKLT-DT Saint John (CTV Atlantic)
- CKAM-TV-3 Blackville, 3 December 2021 (88W, 2,884 people)
- CKAM-TV-4 Doaktown, 3 December 2021 (22W, 1,409 people)
- CKLT-TV-2 Boiestown, 3 December 2021 (24W, 904 people)
Rebroadcasters of CJOH-DT Ottawa (CTV):
- CJOH-TV-47 Pembroke, 2 May 2020 (492,000W, 75,388 people)
- CJOH-TV-6 Deseronto, 9 October 2020 (100,000W, 436,141 people)
Rebroadcaster of CKCO-DT Kitchener (CTV):
- CKCO-TV-3 Oil Springs, 2 May 2020 (846W, 293,703 people)
Rebroadcaster of CKNY-TV North Bay (CTV Northern Ontario):
- CKNY-TV-11 Huntsville, 9 October 2020 (325,000W, 174,627 people)
Rebroadcaster of CITO-TV Timmins (CTV Northern Ontario):
- CITO-TV-2 Kearns, 3 December 2021 (325,000W, 88,472 people)
Rebroadcasters of CKY-DT Winnipeg (CTV):
- CKYA-TV Fisher Branch, 16 July 2021 (62,000W, 15,759 people)
- CKYD-TV Dauphin, 16 July 2021 (140,000W, 30,897 people)
- CKYF-TV Flin Flon, 16 July 2021 (2,060W, 7,762 people)
- CKYP-TV The Pas, 16 July 2021 (2,130W, 9,996 people)
Rebroadcasters of CKCK-DT Regina (CTV):
- CKMC-TV Swift Current, 26 February 2021 (100,000W, 29,035 people)
- CKMJ-TV Marquis (Moose Jaw), 26 February 2021 (98,000W, 87,838 people)
Rebroadcasters of CFQC-DT Saskatoon (CTV):
- CFQC-TV-1 Stranraer, 26 February 2021 (100,000W, 36,546 people)
- CFQC-TV-2 North Battleford, 26 February 2021 (30,300W, 39,686 people)
Rebroadcasters of CFRN-DT Edmonton (CTV):
- CFRN-TV-3 WhiteCourt, 26 February 2021 (17,900W, 32,832 people)
- CFRN-TV-4 Ashmont, 26 February 2021 (26,650W, 23,673 people)
- CFRN-TV-5 Lac La Biche, 26 February 2021 (8,656W, 9,149 people)
- CFRN-TV-7 Lougheed, 26 February 2021 (21,000W, 9,752 people)
- CFRN-TV-12 Athabasca, 26 February 2021 (3,300W, 9,621 people)
- CFRN-TV-9 Slave Lake, 16 July 2021 (840W, 9,683 people)
Rebroadcasters of CFCN-DT Calgary, Alta. (CTV):
- CFCN-TV-15 Invermere, 26 February 2021 (10W, 4,843 people)
- CFCN-TV-9 Cranbrook, 26 February 2021 (446W, 43,765 people)
- CFCN-TV-10 Fernie, 26 February 2021 (23W, 6,568 people)
The application requires CRTC approval because it amends licences for stations these transmitters rebroadcast from. But the CRTC hasn’t been pushing the networks to keep retransmitters running. Instead, it’s more focused on preserving local stations with original programming.
UPDATE: The application drew six interventions from individuals during the open comment period. Bell’s reply was a single page, reiterating why it has taken the decision and adding this:
While we appreciate the concerns expressed by the intervenors, we would like to reiterate that the majority of these shutdowns will not occur before February 2021. Further, our Application is fully compliant with existing Commission policy.
UPDATE (July 30): The commission has approved the request, saying it can’t force Bell Media to keep operating the transmitters:
… licences such as those held by Bell Media are authorizations to broadcast, not obligations to do so. This mean that, while the Commission has the discretion to refuse to revoke broadcasting licences, even on application from a licensee, it cannot generally direct a licensee to continue to operate its transmitters.
Quebec’s television industry is about to lose a voice.
On Monday, the CRTC approved the proposed acquisition of Groupe Serdy, owner of French-language specialty channels Évasion (travel) and Zeste (food) by Quebecor’s Groupe TVA for $21 million.
The acquisition was challenged by V, on the grounds that TVA already has too much power in the market, but the CRTC said the increased market share would be minimal, and in any case still lower than the 45% limit above which it would normally deny such applications.
The application to transfer the licences was supported by dozens of interveners, including many producers.
In addition to $1.8 million in tangible benefits, split between the Canada Media Fund, the Quebecor Fund and Telefilm Canada’s Talent Fund, the transaction will also result in an increase in Canadian spending quotas for both channels, as they’re integrated into the TVA group licence. Évasion must spend 40% of its revenues on Canadian content, while Zeste has no quota. As a condition of approval, both must now come up to the TVA group quota of 45%. And 15% of their revenues must be spent on “programs of national interest” (scripted drama and comedy, documentary and award shows) for the TVA group.
A similar transaction, involving Bell attempting to buy Historia and Séries+ from Corus, was blocked by the Competition Bureau.
Evanov Radio’s controversial plan to launch Quebec City’s first English-language commercial radio station will have to wait some more after being denied again by the CRTC.
In a decision released Thursday, the commission said the Quebec City radio market “cannot sustain an additional radio station at this time” and that the two applications for new stations — the other by Gilles Lapointe and Nelson Sergerie is for a French station — would be returned.
Evanov had previously tried a decade ago to convince the CRTC to move forward with an English music station in the provincial capital, but the commission denied its application in 2010, in a controversial decision that included a dissenting opinion.
The application is controversial because the other stations in the market argue that Quebec City’s English-language population is far too small to sustain a commercial radio station, so Evanov would instead target the francophone population. By being an English station, it would not be subject to the 65% French-language music rule, which would give it an unfair competitive advantage by allowing it to play more American and U.K. hit songs that are very popular among francophone audiences.
Evanov, who wants to launch a Jewel brand station in Quebec City, argues it wants to serve the anglophone community as well as the anglophone tourist market (though Quebec City already has an English tourist information station), and that it has experience in running radio stations in small markets.
The 2010 decision includes a detailed analysis of the anglophone market in Quebec City. But today’s decision only analyzes the market conditions overall, without commenting specifically on the appropriateness of an English radio station in Quebec.
The current applications for Quebec City actually date from 2016, but were put on hold when the CRTC ran low on French-speaking commissioners.
Under CRTC rules, it won’t consider new applications for Quebec City for the next two years. In December 2020, they can try again.
The news was better in neighbouring communities. In Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, an application by Attraction Radio for a second music station there will go ahead. And in Portneuf, which is technically still the home of CHXX-FM (Pop 100.9), the commission will proceed with an application by Michel Lambert. Both raised concerns from the commercial broadcasters in Quebec City for fear that they might eventually target the Quebec City market. The Beauce application was also opposed by Groupe Radio Simard, which owns stations in Saint-Georges-de-Beauce.
The applications themselves haven’t yet been published, but should be soon. a public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 20 (to hear an application for Leclerc Communication to buy CHOI Radio X and 91,9 Sports from RNC Media), but these items will not require any oral presentations.
There was a sigh of relief in Kanesatake on Monday that relations between the federal government and the Mohawk reserve wouldn’t be strained over a radio frequency coordination issue.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission released a decision denying a licence application for a new Christian music radio station in Lachute. The application by LS Telecom proposed a 300-watt station at 101.7 MHz.
That same frequency is used by CKHQ-FM (Kanesatake United Voices Radio), a low-power (27W) community station serving the reserve about 25 kilometres away. And though the applicant’s engineers said (and the CRTC agreed) that the new station could co-exist with this existing one, because CKHQ is low-power it does not have a right to its frequency and could be forced to find a new one if a licensed station would receive interference. Because of Kanesatake’s proximity to Montreal, there aren’t other frequencies available that would be nearly as good, even for such a low-power station.
The Lachute station would also have limited CKHQ’s ability to seek an increase in power (though the CRTC says it “would not affect the ability of CKHQ-FM to serve its principal market” and “would not prevent CKHQ-FM from expanding to a regular power station”).
The Lachute application was denied, not because of concerns about CKHQ, but because of issues with the application itself. The commission seemed to think it was a bad application in general, that LS Telecom “did not provide a quality application and did not demonstrate an understanding of the regulations and policies for commercial radio and religious broadcasting.” But it particularly showed concern with the complete lack of news programming proposed, even after the CRTC reminded them that such a thing is expected of commercial FM radio stations, religious or not.
It was a nice try from the English Language Arts Network, but the CRTC didn’t bite. In renewing Télé-Québec’s broadcasting licence for a five-year term on Tuesday, the commission turned down ELAN’s request that Quebec’s public broadcaster devote 10% of its programming budget to English-language programming (proportional to the number of anglophones in the province).
ELAN pointed to Ontario’s creation of TFO, a francophone equivalent of TVO, as precedent for having bilingual public broadcasters. But the commission was unconvinced.
“The creation and operation of TFO in Ontario is a decision of the Government of Ontario,” the commission wrote. “Provinces have the opportunity to put in place educational television stations in both official languages for their citizens if they wish.”
Télé-Québec argued its programming was reflective of all Quebecers, including anglophone Quebecers, in the topics discussed if not the language it is discussed in.
ELAN also asked for “a policy and an action plan relating to Quebec’s diversity”, a 20% quota on programming reflecting minorities, and an advisory committee. The CRTC said the demands were “beyond the scope of this licence renewal process” and should be dealt with at a policy hearing.
Other interest groups also sought quotas or commitments from Télé-Québec. Producers wanted more spending on scripted programming, children’s programming and original French-language programming, a Quebec City group wanted a 10% quota on programming from Quebec City, and ADISQ wanted an expectation related to music.
The commission turned those down, but did add a purposely vague expectation related to regional programming: “The Commission expects the licensee to make use of independent producers from all of Quebec’s regions in such a way that producers from the regions outside the Montréal Census Metropolitan Area, as well as producers from the Montréal CMA, are proportionally contributing to the production of programs broadcast on CIVM-DT Montréal.”
It also allowed Télé-Québec to extend its target audience for youth programming to include teenagers ages 12-17.
Télé-Québec has 17 over-the-air transmitters across the province, but even though they mostly carry different callsigns, they are all formally licensed as retransmitters of the Montreal station, and the programming carried on all of them is identical.
Its new licence expires Aug. 31, 2024.
The CRTC has approved the $18.5-million acquisition of 10 RNC Media radio stations by Cogeco, representing two thirds of RNC’s network of stations.
Affected stations are:
- Planète 104.5 in Alma
- Planète 93.5 in Chibougamau
- Planète 99.5 in Roberval
- Planète 100.3 in Dolbeau-Mistassini
- Radio X 95.7 in Saguenay (repeater at 96.3 Alma)
- Capitale Rock 104.3 in Val-d’Or
- Capitale Rock 102.1 in La Sarre (repeater at 95.7 Rouyn-Noranda)
- WOW 96.5 in Rouyn-Noranda (repeaters at 103.5 Val d’Or and 103.9 La Sarre)
- Pop 104.9 in Lachute
- Pop 102.1 in Hawkesbury
Of the remaining stations, two are being sold to Leclerc Communication:
- CKLX-FM (91,9 Sports) in Montreal
- CHOI-FM (Radio X) in Quebec City
The remaining three are presumably on the market with no sale announced yet (but I’m told there are talks with at least one potential buyer):
- CHXX-FM (Pop 100.9) in Donnacona (serving Quebec City, repeater at 105.5 Lotbinière)
- CFTX-FM (Pop 96.5) In Gatineau (repeater at 107.5 Buckingham)
- CHLX-FM (Wow 97.1) in Gatineau
The acquisitions bring Cogeco’s radio network from 13 to 23 stations, and means Cogeco’s first expansion into the Saguenay and Abitibi regions. Of population centres over 15,000, the only ones that wouldn’t be within 100 kilometres of a Cogeco transmitter will be Rimouski and Sept-Îles.
A map of Quebec’s major commercial radio networks: Cogeco Media (purple), RNC Media (red, with approved sales in reddish purple), Bell Media (blue), Attraction Radio (black) and Groupe Radio Simard (gold). Retransmitters are in a lighter colour.
Notable aspects of this transaction:
- Cogeco plans no immediate change to the “vocation” of the radio stations, which will remain local.
- Cogeco plans to introduce local newscasts to the Lachute station. For other stations, the benefits come mainly through access to the infrastructure of Cogeco Nouvelles.
- The commission has accepted Cogeco’s proposed tangible benefits of $1,184,217, based on a total transaction value of $19,736,958. The breakdown uses the standard formula for radio, with:
- $592,109 (3%) to Radio Starmaker Fund or Fonds Radiostar
- $296,054 (1.5%) to FACTOR or Musicaction
- $98,684 (0.5%) to the Community Radio Fund of Canada
- $197,370 (1%) to discretionary initiatives
- The nature of the discretionary initiatives isn’t specified, but Cogeco said it would include six-week paid internships at its radio stations. The commission pushed back on this (tangible benefits are not allowed to be self-serving), and Cogeco responded by saying it would use $10,000 a year for bursaries instead. The rest of the discretionary money would go to local initiatives, broken down as follows:
- $10,000 a year in the Saguenay region
- $5,000 a year in the Abitibi region
- $3,196 a year in the Lachute-Hawkesbury region
- The contract includes a 36-month service contract for RNC Media to continue providing local news, office space, outdoor advertising, transmitters and technical support for the stations in the Abitibi region after the deal closes. Following that, Cogeco will rent space for three transmitters at two sites from RNC for $5,000 a year each for 10 years (indexed to the consumer price index), and two transmitters at a third site for five-year renewable leases for a price to be negotiated.
- The radio stations (bought by Cogeco) and TV stations (retained by RNC Media) in the Abitibi region will continue to cross-promote for a period of 24 months after the acquisition. The exact value of these ads is confidential, but will be the same for both sides. A similar ad exchange deal is in place for Cogeco’s CKOF-FM (104,7) and RNC Media’s TV stations in Gatineau, even though those stations aren’t part of this transaction.
- Cogeco acquires the WOW brand (used by CHOA-FM in Val-d’Or) and gives RNC Media a licence to continue to use the brand for its Gatineau station. Cogeco also acquires the Planète and Capitale Rock trademarks.
- RNC Media holds on to the POP brand (used by CFTX-FM in Gatineau and CHXX-FM in Donnacona) but gives Cogeco licence to use it for the Rouyn-Noranda station.
- RNC also keeps the Radio X brand, which is used by CKYK-FM in Saguenay. Cogeco can use the KYK logo, but without any mention of Radio X. There does not appear to be transition allowance here, which means it would have to change the branding as soon as the deal closes.
- Cogeco says of the 220 on-air employees it will have if the transaction is approved, 92 (42%) are women, 4 (2%) people with disabilities, 2 (1%) visible minorities and 1 (0.5%) Indigenous person. (In the application, Cogeco gets the math wrong by two decimal places on the last three percentages there, making it look even worse.)
- About 55 employees will move with the stations — 10 in Abitibi, 44 in Saguenay and one in Lachute. Three of those employees are currently on leave.
- The deal will close on the first of the month after CRTC approval. This is listed as the only remaining condition for closing.
- The deal includes a non-compete agreement for Val d’Or, La Sarre, Rouyn-Noranda, Lachute, Hawkesbury, Amos, Dolbeau, Roberval, Alma, Chibougamau and Saguenay, for a confidential period.
I was a bit busy yesterday in the middle of a Quebec newsplosion, but fortunately people in the rest of Canada (Globe and Mail, Financial Post, CBC, BNN, Michael Geist, Cartt.ca) had time to read the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and notice an annex that directly impacts the CRTC and Canadian TV viewers.
Annex 15-D of the agreement is very specific: “Canada shall rescind Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2016-334 and Broadcasting Order CRTC 2016-335.”
It doesn’t use the words, but that policy is about ad substitution during the Super Bowl. It’s the policy (originally announced in 2015) that said Bell could not require TV providers in Canada substitute its signal over those of U.S. border stations during the game because of Canadians’ strong demand for those high-profile U.S. commercials.
Bell has been trying hard since 2015 to get that decision overturned, going all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada. The NFL has been on their side, because without simsub, the value of the Super Bowl rights in Canada plummets.
Now, thanks to the NFL’s lobbying of U.S. trade negotiators, the Canadian government will step in and solve the problem for them. The annex doesn’t specify a timeframe, but presumably it would happen when the treaty is ratified, which may or may not come before the next Super Bowl in February.
Putting this in the trade deal gives the Canadian government and the CRTC some cover. The Canadian government can say they were forced into this by the U.S. government, and the CRTC can blame the Canadian government when people go back to complaining to it that U.S. ads are blocked.
This also could have ended much worse for Canadian TV viewers. This trade deal could have ended the entire practice of allowing U.S. over-the-air stations to be rebroadcast in Canada without their consent. There was lobbying from a coalition of U.S. border stations in favour of requiring retransmission consent. Instead, the existing simsub regime will be maintained, and rebroadcasting through TV distributors allowed (but only when the signal is unaltered and simultaneous).
Assuming this deal is ratified, it could be decades before the simsub regime changes. And by then it could be completely irrelevant.
UPDATE (Oct. 6): Donald Trump amazingly brought up this clause in a campaign rally on Thursday night, saying a “big big problem” with Super Bowl ads was fixed when he told his negotiators to fix it. He said he got a phone call thanking him from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
And let QVC in, too
The annex also includes a provision related specifically to QVC: “Canada shall ensure that U.S. programming services specializing in home shopping, including modified versions of these U.S. programming services for the Canadian market, are authorized for distribution in Canada and may negotiate affiliation agreements with Canadian cable, satellite, and IPTV distributors.”
In 2016, the CRTC denied an application by TV provider VMedia to allow it to distribute the American shopping channel in Canada. It argued that since QVC would be doing business with Canadians, and that’s the very basis for that channel, “QVC would be carrying on a broadcasting undertaking in whole or in part in Canada” and for that it needed a licence (which it couldn’t get because it’s not Canadian-owned).
VMedia filed a request in court to overturn that decision, and the federal court sent it back to the CRTC. The commission opened a proceeding about its reconsideration, but has not published a decision.
If the CRTC is trying to wean the broadcasting system off of free money, it hasn’t been showing it in the past couple of weeks as it has renewed mandatory distribution orders for most services that have that special status requiring all cable, satellite and IPTV subscribers to subscribe to those services.
Every service whose status was up for renewal on Aug. 31 was renewed, with three getting an increase in their per-subscriber fee and one getting a decrease. Overall, the total goes up by seven cents a month per subscriber.
On Aug. 2, the CRTC renewed the broadcasting licences of most of Canada’s major cable TV companies, including Videotron, Cogeco, Rogers, Shaw, SaskTel, Eastlink, Telus, VMedia and Bell MTS.
Though it wasn’t technically a policy proceeding, the omnibus licence renewals allowed the commission to impose a bunch of de facto policies, or clarify existing ones, on everyone at the same time. (Licenses for Bell’s Fibe TV operations, Bell satellite TV, Shaw Direct and some other distributors weren’t part of this proceeding, and smaller distributors who are exempt from licensing aren’t affected.)
Here’s what was decided:
CBC and Radio-Canada have radio transmitters across the country, but most of them don’t have original programming. So often the question has to be asked: which local station should they retransmit? In some cases it’s easy — just pick the closest one — but in others it’s more complicated.
In the Atikamekw communities of central Quebec — roughly halfway between Lac Saint-Jean and Val-d’Or — there isn’t a Radio-Canada Première originating station anywhere close. Between Saguenay, Rouyn-Noranda, Trois-Rivières and Quebec City, the distance is about the same.
But these stations aren’t serving francophone Québécois audiences, they’re serving First Nations communities. So it made sense that the station it would retransmit would be none of these. Instead, Wemotaci (Weymontachie), Manouane (Manawan) and Obedjiwan retransmit CBFG-FM in Chisasibi, a community along James Bay that is the base for stations in northern Quebec. That station mainly rebroadcasts CBF-FM Montreal, but broadcasts three one-hour shows a day in the Cree language, produced by CBC North.
A recent consultation with the Atikamekw communities showed that there’s little interest from their members in that programming. In an application to the CRTC, Radio-Canada says it’s because there is a negligible number of Cree-language speakers in those communities. Atikamekw (which is well spoken in the region) is considered a Cree language, but is a different dialect from the James Bay Cree spoken in Chisasibi.
A letter from Constant Awashish, Grand Chief of the Atikamekw council, says only that the communities felt that the Mauricie station would be a more appropriate source of programming, without explaining why.
So the CRTC has approved the application (without a public comment period) and transferred the retransmitters to the Mauricie station CBF-FM-8 Trois-Rivières — between 200 and 315km away. The change reduces the network of CBFG-FM from ten stations to seven, the furthest south being Waswanipi, 135 kilometres northwest of Obedjiwan.
For at least the third time, the CRTC is about to make a call on whether Quebec City should be allowed to have an English-language commercial radio station.
An application by Evanov Radio subsidiary Dufferin Communications, which also owns stations running the Jewel format (including 106.7 in Hudson), plus CFMB 1280 and CHRF 980 in Montreal, prompted a request for comment by the commission in 2016 about whether a general call for applications should be issued. So far two applications (the other one for a French station) have been filed for the use of 105.7 MHz, considered one of the last available usable frequencies in the city.
On Wednesday, the CRTC issued another notice of consultation, effectively reopening the file. It never came to a decision in the case, ironically because of a lack of francophone commissioners. With recent appointments that problem has been solved.
This is Evanov’s second attempt to do this. In 2010, the CRTC denied a previous application by the company, ruling by majority vote that because the English-speaking population of Quebec is so small (1.1% speak it most often at home), “for all practical purposes there is virtually no advertising market in Québec for an English-language station” and “its service is almost entirely dependent on Québec’s French-language audience.”
In 2006, the CRTC similarly denied an application by Standard Radio (which at the time owned Mix 96, CHOM and CJAD, before it was bought by Astral Media the next year).
Why does it matter that an English station would attract a francophone audience? (After all, Montreal’s English-language music stations have larger francophone audiences than anglophone ones.)
The process to launch TTP Media’s talk radio stations in Montreal has taken so long that they’re now in the process of getting their licences renewed after the end of their initial seven-year term. And the publication of the application for the first of those stations suggests that the company may be moving away from its proposed news-talk format and toward health and wellness, which sounds like the kind of thing that has been tried on other AM stations in the market.
There’s not much clearer evidence of the declining industry of over-the-air television than the lack of demand for new TV stations in the country. With some exceptions (ICI in Montreal, for example), there haven’t been applications for new over-the-air stations in about 20 years. Instead, major networks like CBC, TVO and CTV have been shutting down transmitters en masse to save money.
So it’s a bit surprising that someone has submitted an application for a new transmitter, in one of the most remote places in the country: the Magdalen Islands (Îles-de-la-Madeleine), the archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence that belongs to Quebec but is actually closer to all four Atlantic provinces than it is to the Quebec mainland.
The application comes from CHAU, the TVA affiliate in Carleton on the Gaspé peninsula. It’s owned by Télé Inter-Rives, which also operates affiliates of the three major French-language networks (Radio-Canada, TVA and V) in Rivière-du-Loup. In addition to its main transmitter in Carleton, CHAU operates 11 digital retransmitters in the Gaspé peninsula and northern New Brunswick. This would be the 12th transmitter, CHAU-DT-12.
(CHAU, like other independent broadcasters, made the investment to convert their over-the-air transmitters to digital even though they were not required to do so by the government’s digital transition plan because they served small communities.)
CHAU-DT-12 would be a 100-watt station, with a transmitter on Channel 12 in Cap-aux-Meules on the local transmission tower operated by GAD E?lectronique. CHAU puts the cost of the new transmission facility at $37,572. That’s about $3 for each of the region’s 12,000 or so residents.
Because it’s a retransmitter, CHAU-DT-12 wouldn’t be a local station for the islands, but CHAU says it wants to provide local programming, working with independent producers on the islands and doing reporting using technologies like Skype and FaceTime. CHAU says in its application that the residents of the islands have a lot in common with those of the Gaspé peninsula and Acadian communities in New Brunswick, including an interest in fishing.
It promises to devote at least 20 minutes a week to local news relevant to the islands.
The islands haven’t had an over-the-air television transmitter since CBC/Radio-Canada shut down its extensive network of analog TV rebroadcasters in 2012. Before they were shut down, they had two retransmitters of the Radio-Canada station in Montreal (CBIMT and CBIMT-1) and one retransmitter of CBC Montreal (CBMYT).
“In today’s difficult environment for over-the-air television in Canada, the project to extend CHAU’s signal to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine represents an investment that is unexpected but achievable thanks to technical possibilities that reduce installation and operational costs,” the application reads.
The CRTC is accepting comments about CHAU’s application until July 5. Comments can be filed here. Note that all information submitted, including contact information, becomes part of the public record.