Because he’s from Montreal, because he’s a nice guy and because he’s a geek at heart, I wanted to be encouraging and wish him well in his new job.
Unfortunately, after sitting through the first three-hour program, I was left frustrated, both at what CTV seems to be doing with its all-news network and at how that industry is changing in general.
When it launched in 1997, what was then called CTVNews1 was licensed as a continuous 15-minute news wheel, repeating the headlines four times an hour. This was to distinguish it from CBC Newsworld, at a time when all cable channels had genre protection.
But as the CRTC came to realize that cable news was healthy enough to warrant direct competition, restrictions on the CTV network became relaxed, and now the two are effectively head to head in terms of format. This is a good thing.
What’s not good is that rather than focus on more news to keep people better informed, CTV seems to be relying more on pointless, time-wasting banter that just wastes viewers’ time.
Scanning through the TV channels, I found it covered live on only one. It wasn’t CPAC, of course, it was CTV News Channel, which cut away from Dan Matheson’s show for almost 25 minutes to air these talking heads live. Matheson cut it off just before noon only so he could finally throw to commercials. Before he did, there were three questions from the audience – all from television broadcasters with clear interests here (one was from CityTV, which isn’t part of the coalition only because its owner Rogers is more interested in protecting cable revenue than television revenue – the videographer asked if this is a political campaign by broadcasters, and got them to admit that yes, it was).
When CTV News Channel returned, there was no discussion of the topic, no response from cable and satellite companies, and no attempt was made to provide the other side of the debate (even though it’s being clearly stated). This despite the fact that the 25-minute presentation included facts that are clearly in dispute, included two commercials (which were not shot by a CTV cameraman pointing at a screen, but fed directly to air), and an admission from CTV itself that this was a political campaign.
It was only at 1 p.m., an hour and a half after the press conference began, that Dan Matheson brought in Phil Lind of Rogers and grilled him for five minutes on the cable company’s response. A 25-minute news conference with embedded advertising presented without question versus a five-minute interview with a skeptical news anchor is apparently considered balanced to CTV.
Just after noon on CFCF’s local newscast, a brief about the news conference was presented by anchor Todd van der Heyden. Again, CTV’s statements were presented without question, no attempt was made to present the other side of the debate, and viewers were encouraged to visit CTV’s Local TV Matters website as if it was some reliable source for more information instead of a propaganda campaign by the corporate office.
CTV started by airing one-sided ads on its networks, then holding “open houses” and leveraging local TV personalities to amass large crowds to pretend there’s some huge support for their political cause. They aired one-sided reports from local journalists scaring people into supporting them. Now, it seems, they’re presenting a news conference (at which nothing new was said) as if it’s breaking news.
CTV is continuing to abuse the public trust, and using its power over journalists it employs to get them to ignore journalistic ethics and bias themselves in favour of their employer.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree with CTV’s campaign, or with fee for carriage, or that local TV is in trouble, or that cable and satellite companies are making too much money. CTV News has a duty to present a fair picture to its viewers, and it is intentionally failing to do so.
Shaw Communications has asked the CRTC to add CNN International to the list of eligible channel imports for Canadian cable and satellite companies. Canadian viewers’ exposure to CNNI is currently limited to the British-sounding people they sometimes hear behind an anchor desk during a noon-hour show or when breaking news happens late at night. The programming is distinctly different from CNN’s U.S. channel, and obviously focuses much less on U.S.-specific stuff.
The CRTC’s notice suggests it is ready to approve the channel, since it doesn’t compete with Canadian networks and is unlikely to have any program licensing issues.
No HD for you
Also from the CRTC this week is a denial for a new channel called Canada HD Network, which I mocked back in July. Back then I suggested the CRTC would likely deny the request unless it got much more specific about programming. Otherwise it would compete with conventional general-interest broadcasters.
Sure enough, there were objections from CTV, Canwest, Rogers, Astral Media, The Score and the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, and Canada HD Network was shown the door. Similar decisions were made against its Diversion channel in high-definition and standard-definition (which were for some reason filed separately)
New HD channels coming
The CRTC has approved high-definition versions of the following CTV-owned specialty channels:
Business News Network
Outdoor Life Network
This is only the first step in the process. The HD channels must now be created and CTV must negotiate with carriers to have the HD versions added to their lineups.
Good news, bad news for CMT
CMT Canada (Country Music Television) had a few requests for amendments to its license:
It wanted to make changes to the categories of programs it can air, by adding animated programming and improv/stand-up comedy, by increasing (slightly) its cap on drama/comedy programming and by removing restrictions on the number of feature films it can air (though those films must still feature country music artists). All programming would still have to fit in with the country music theme and fit existing limits on non-music-video programming. Since no opposition was voiced and the proposed changes are not huge, the requests were approved.
CMT wanted to change the criteria by which videos are deemed “Canadian” to judge only the music and not the video itself. For music video television stations to consider a music video as Cancon-compliant, not only must the music be produced/written/performed by a Canadian (similar to the criteria radio stations use), but the video itself must have been produced by Canadians. This means that a Shania Twain music video wouldn’t be Cancon if it was entirely produced in the States, even though the song itself counts as Cancon for radio stations. This request was denied because it would change policy across the board.
CMT wanted to change its required financial contribution minimums. Currently it must spend 22% of gross revenues, half on creating new Canadian country music videos and half on creating new (original) programming. It wanted to shift the balance toward programming and away from videos. Partly this is because CMT is less of a music video station (its requirement dropped from 90% to 50%), and partly this is because it would have to spend less of that remaining 78% on original/Canadian programming to meet CRTC requirements if it could shift that budget over. This request was also denied, as the CRTC pointed out that CMT’s revenues have gone up and the network is hardly in a financial crisis.
AfroGlobal Television, a general interest network about Africa and African culture
Diversion HD, an HD movie network for the post-PPV sloppy seconds
Diversion SD, the same thing in standard definition
Canada HD Network, a general interest HD channel which seems to want to compete with U.S. based HDNet (to the point where it actually refused to have 15% limitations on music, movies and other categories that would compete with existing services). Its suggested programming grid includes an unusually large amount of Fresh Prince of Bel Air and McMillan & Wife reruns, especially for an HD channel
*The Discovery Channel already has an HD version, which was approved on a temporary basis before the CRTC had a proper framework for such channels. This application is to have an HD channel under the new framework, which would require 95% of all programming to be the same between the SD and HD versions of the same channel (and the remaining 5% to be all-HD on the HD network).
CTV also wants to expand the programming of two of its channels, ESPN Classic Canada and Book Television, to include “general entertainment and human interest”. They cite as examples profiles of Hall of Fame athletes and Giller Prize awards coverage, respectively. The paranoid part of me thinks the likelihood of anyone complaining of these types of shows is extremely small, and that adding this category may be more about other kinds of shows they’d like to air that have less to do with the channels’ core mission.