Last week, Bell Media was the last of the major English-language broadcasters to present their fall schedules to the public and advertisers. The big sells are the new (mostly American) series they’re adding to their primetime schedules. I haven’t seen any of them, so let’s instead focus on everything else that was announced and that I find interesting:
Eight years after Shaw promised the CRTC it would upgrade Global TV’s network of over-the-air television transmitters to digital, Corus says it wants to abandon that plan before its completion and shut down 44 of Global’s 93 transmitters across the country, including 24 that have already been converted to digital.
In an application filed last week with the commission, Corus explains that the affected rebroadcasting transmitters “generate no incremental revenue, and attract little to no added viewership for Corus. They are also costly to maintain, and we expect expenses to increase as a result of the Government of Canada’s re-allotment plan for the 600 MHz band.”
In 2010, when Shaw purchased the television assets of Canwest Global, part of the tangible benefits proposal to get the CRTC approve the sale was to allocate $23 million to convert 67 analog TV transmitters to digital, in markets small enough to not be included in the mandatory analog-to-digital conversion. Those transmitters were mostly inherited from stations under previous ownership, and are unequally distributed. The two B.C. stations have 37 transmitters between them, and there are 17 for the two stations in Atlantic Canada.
Global is composed of 16 licensed stations with a total of 93 transmitters.
More Canadians are being exposed to Global Television’s brand this fall as small stations are dealing with the fallout of CBC dropping all its private television affiliates.
Starting today, CKSA-DT in Lloydminster (Alberta/Saskatchewan) changes affiliation from CBC to Global. The Newcap-owned station had been the last privately-owned affiliate carrying CBC programming, but the public broadcaster terminated its agreement with the station, forcing it to seek an alternative source. Its sister station CITL-DT is already a CTV affiliate, so Global was the next logical option. It now carries the entire Global morning, daytime, primetime, evening and late-night lineup, with the exception of the Newcap News local news show at 5pm weekdays.
Meanwhile, three Corus-owned affiliates in eastern Ontario are taking on Global’s news programming while maintaining their program supply agreement with CTV.
Starting next week, CHEX-DT in Peterborough, CKWS-DT in Kingston and CHEX-TV-2 in Oshawa will also carry Global National at 5:30pm. And the Kingston and Peterborough stations will get local morning newscasts from 6-9am weekdays starting in October (Oct. 17 in Kingston and Oct. 24 in Peterborough). Corus television boss Troy Reeb says they will remain under their branding (which consists of their call letters).
— Troy Reeb (@troyreebglobal) September 1, 2016
These three stations were owned by Corus before Corus bought Shaw Media this year. They had been CBC affiliates as well until CBC dropped them a year ago. Since then they have entered into program supply agreements with CTV, without becoming official affiliates. Besides their local news shows and the Global morning show and Global National, they will still air CTV’s daytime, primetime and late-night lineup, including CTV National News.
The Global Television Network now has 12 stations, plus seven independently-owned stations carrying Global programming:
- CKSA-DT Lloydminster, a full Global affiliate owned by Newcap
- CFHD-DT Thunder Bay, a full Global affiliate owned by Dougall Media
- CJBN-TV Kenora, a full Global affiliate owned by Shaw (not sold to Corus)
- CKWS-DT Kingston, a de facto CTV affiliate owned by Corus carrying Global News programs
- CHEX-DT Peterborough, a de facto CTV affiliate owned by Corus carrying Global News programs
- CHEX-TV-2 Oshawa, a de facto CTV affiliate owned by Corus carrying Global News programs
- CJON-DT St. John’s, a station owned by Stirling Communications which carries both CTV and Global programming
UPDATE (Oct. 19): Corus has announced that CHEX-TV-2 in Oshawa will rebrand its local newscast as Global Durham and rebroadcast Global Toronto’s local newscast at 5:30 and 6. The schedule also shows it’s dropping CTV National News at 11.
Later this month, the CRTC will hold a hearing looking into the future of local and community television. Included in that review will be a look at how much local programming local television stations should produce, and what that should be.
The proceeding has attracted thousands of pages of comments, including from Canada’s major broadcasters.
Shaw Media, which owns Global TV, filed comments in which it unsurprisingly defended its model for local news, which involves local newscasts not only being produced and directed outside of local markets, but anchored there as well.
Shaw Media calls it innovative and transformative. Critics and the union calls it cost-cutting at the expense of local programming. What the CRTC calls it might become an issue.
Earlier this month, Global announced changes to the way it does local news across the country. The biggest one is that 11pm and weekend newscasts will no longer be anchored locally. Instead, an anchor or anchors in Toronto will produce local newscasts for the various local stations, customized for those stations and containing local news.
This is a step beyond what they did in 2008, when they centralized newscast control rooms in four broadcast centres (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto) so that one team could produce several newscasts in a day instead of just one or two.
What we’re left with are newscasts that feature reports from local journalists and are presumably lined up by local staff, but where the anchor, weatherman, director and just about all technical staff are in another city. Can that really be considered local programming?
There are also changes to the morning show, which will soon feature eight-minute segments every half-hour produced nationally that will be identical for all markets. As a result, the morning show is losing three employees, including co-host Richard Dagenais.
The union representing Global Montreal employees isn’t happy. It sent out a press release last week (later corrected) that condemned the loss of local programming. Except for a couple of tweets, no one paid attention.
CUPE/SCFP tells me they will be watching the new shows with a stopwatch to see if Global is meeting its obligations to the CRTC, and will complain if they’re not.
Like all commercial television stations, Global Montreal has to ensure a minimum amount of local programming is aired. For stations in large markets like Montreal, that’s 14 hours a week.
Shaw also made a separate promise to create morning shows at least two hours long when it purchased Global from Canwest in 2010, and to keep them running until at least 2016-17, contributing $45 million to that cause ($5 million for Montreal). Because that’s a tangible benefit as part of a major acquisition, those 10 hours a week have to be in addition to the usual 14 hours a week of local programming.
If we consider Morning News, Evening News, News Final and Focus Montreal as local programming, including their repeats and best-of shows, Global is meeting that obligation of 24 hours a week.
But are they really local?
As far as I can tell, the CRTC only really got around to establishing a definition of local programming in 2009, when it established the since-terminated Local Programming Improvement Fund. In Paragraph 43, it decided on the following definition:
Local programming is defined as programming produced by local stations with local personnel or programming produced by locally-based independent producers that reflects the particular needs and interests of the market’s residents.
Are these late-night newscasts produced by local stations? Do they use local personnel? It depends how you define “produced” and “personnel”, I guess.
When Global first outsourced technical production in 2008, the unions complained then too, saying these newscasts were not really local. The CRTC didn’t see it that way,
In 2009, the commission decided that there was no evidence that Global was contravening its licence requirements by outsourcing production of local news. It confirmed this later that year in renewing the licences of Global stations, but said it “will continue to monitor the situation.”
There’s also a separate definition of “local presence”, which has three criteria:
- providing seven-day-a-week original local news coverage distinct to the market;
- employing full-time journalists on the ground in the market; and
- operating a news bureau or news gathering office in the market.
Global’s new plan fits all three of these criteria, though the first might be arguable depending on how distinctive the newscasts really are.
Global points out that it’s not unprecedented to anchor local newscasts outside of the local market. Its New Brunswick newscast is anchored out of Halifax. Other small stations owned by Global and CTV have their local news produced out of neighbouring markets. And the CRTC hasn’t seemed to have a problem with that.
The CRTC will be reviewing its local television policy in the coming year, and this could become a central issue.
What the new Global Montreal will look like
So how will this affect what actually goes on air? Here’s what we know:
- The 6pm newscast is unchanged. It will still be anchored locally by Jamie Orchard, and produced out of Edmonton with a weatherman in Toronto. Its news will still be local, since it’s followed directly by Global National at 6:30.
- Focus Montreal is also unchanged.
- The late-night and weekend newscasts will have a Toronto anchor, and 11pm newscasts will be expanded to a full hour.
- The morning show will have more nationally-produced content.
Many details are still unclear, but here’s some things I’m predicting will happen:
- The morning show will have national news, world news and entertainment segments that are nationally produced, but still have the local anchor doing local news. There may be a temptation to do sports nationally, but unless they do something like City where the national sports segment is customized to the local market, it would probably be better to leave that local. We might also see some national lifestyle segments produced for all markets, or special all-markets broadcasts like we’ve seen on City.
- The quality of the morning show will decrease thanks to its staff cuts.
- Late-night weeknight and weekend newscasts anchored out of Toronto will no longer be live. Which is fine because they’ll be mainly rehashes of the 6pm news anyway, with maybe a report from an evening reporter thrown in. The hour-long 11pm newscast will be heavy on national segments, including some sports content. The ability to make late changes because of breaking local news will be significantly diminished.
One thing that’s unclear is who will be running the show locally nights and weekends. Global says it will commit to having a local person exercising editorial control over those newscasts, but setting aside how hard it is to effectively use that control when everyone is in another city and there’s enormous pressure to not be different from other markets, who will be the person doing this?
Under the current system, the only person in the newsroom for most of the night or weekend is the anchor. They’re handling assignment duties, lining up the newscast, and even calling the cops to get updates. Will there still be a reporter doing this? And if so, why not just have that person still act as anchor?
Global’s plan is clearly to focus on content over its container. But I think the company is underestimating the contributions that anchors make to their newscasts. It’s not a job that involves only 30 minutes a day of work.
How will the viewers react? Well, when your late-night newscast gets a couple of thousand viewers, you might ask if it even matters. And will they even recognize that their anchor is in Toronto, with little or no knowledge of the city he’s describing every night?
Or maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, TV newscasts are so 20th century. And Global is looking toward the future. Its plans for Global News 1, which ironically involve hiring a bunch of staff instead of laying them off, is a similar blend of national and local where the local resources are all gathering news instead of producing newscasts. But we’re still waiting for the CRTC to publish the application for that proposed service.
Updated with a correction about stations being offered to participate.
After being tight-lipped about it for months, Shaw Media has made the first announcement about its plan for a new national news channel called Global News 1, first mentioned in a CRTC filing in June.
In a press release issued Monday, Shaw Media says it has submitted its application for the new all-news channel to the CRTC (which hasn’t published it yet, so we don’t have details). The timing is deliberate, coming just after the commission concluded its Let’s Talk TV hearing. Reeb said the submission was made several weeks ago, but Shaw wanted to wait until the proceeding was over to respect that process.
Shaw explains its unique blend of national and local news this way:
Global News 1 will feature a national newsfeed bookended by local news segments tailored specifically for each of the markets it serves. Using next-generation technology, the service will be framed by a continuous data feed of hyper-local headlines and community events. With the ability to cover live, breaking news at the local, regional or national level, Global News 1 will be like no other service on the dial.
Shaw says that each of the 12 markets with owned-and-operated Global stations (Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Saint John, Halifax) will have its own feed, but there will also be eight additional communities getting “local newsrooms” — places with “either no local television news or limited competition”:
- Fort McMurray, Alta.
- Red Deer, Alta.
- Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
- Niagara, Ont.
- Mississauga, Ont.
- Ottawa, Ont.
- Quebec City, Que.
- Charlottetown, P.E.I.
And on top of that, “Shaw Media is also proposing to open the channel to eight small-market, independent broadcasters who would have the opportunity to add their own local content to the service and retain all local advertising in their markets.”
Troy Reeb, senior vice-president of Global News, tells me these stations are:
- CKPG in Prince George, B.C. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
- CFJC in Kamloops, B.C. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
- CHAT in Medicine Hat, Alta. (Jim Pattison Group) — City affiliate
- CKSA/CITL in Lloydminster, Alta./Sask. (Newcap) — CBC and CTV affiliates, respectively
- CHFD in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Dougall Media) — already a Global affiliate
- CHEX in Peterborough, Ont. (Corus) — CBC affiliate
- CKWS in Kingston, Ont. (Corus) — CBC affiliate
- CJON in St. John’s, N.L. (NTV)
(An earlier version of this post also listed CHEK in Victoria, B.C. Reeb actually referred to CHEX, the Corus station. CHEK is not on the list because it competes directly with Global B.C.)
Reeb specifies that there has been no discussion with these stations. Rather, the offer is being made because Global does not want to compete with them. “We didn’t want to threaten any of the small stations that are already struggling,” he said. “We didn’t want to go in and say hey we’re going to open up a competitor. We’re looking for a solution not just for us but for the system overall.”
Assuming it adds all of these stations, that would mean up to 28 different markets getting a hybrid national/local news channel.
Notably absent from this list is CJBN, a station owned by Shaw (but separate from Shaw Media, its acquisition predated the Global purchase) in Kenora, Ont. Its tiny market and limited local programming means it doesn’t have the resources to contribute to this service, Reeb said.
Reeb told me that, if the proposal is approved, Global would add about 100 journalists across the country, between those working at the regional newsrooms and those working nationally. This would mean about a half-dozen people working in each regional newsroom.
It’s official: Global Montreal’s new local morning show begins next Monday.
The three-hour show, from 6am to 9am weekdays, was a promise that Shaw made to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission when it purchased the former Canwest television assets, including Global Television, in 2010. (The promise was for a minimum of 10 hours a week, or two hours a day, so it’s nice that they’re adding the extra hour.) This is in addition to the evening newscasts at 6pm and 11pm which will continue to run (though the latter needs to find a new anchor).
The show will have two hosts and a weather presenter, pictured above. I already told you about Camille Ross, who left CTV Montreal for this higher-profile (and full-time) gig. Richard Dagenais is already familiar to Global Montreal viewers as a reporter and anchor of News Final at 11pm. His selection here is a no-brainer because he was a host of This Morning Live, Global Quebec’s morning show that was cancelled in 2008.
The new face here is Jessica Laventure, who will be doing weather. She was a morning host at MétéoMédia, and before that worked at Global Quebec as a production assistant, reporter and host of the weekly QC Magazine. She also does a weekend show at Boom FM. But I know her best as a former teachers’ assistant at Concordia University’s journalism program, where she taught kids not much younger than herself how to use fun electronic equipment (myself included).
Global bills this as “the city’s only locally-produced English-language morning show”, which is true, but also conveniently leaves out the fact that competition is right around the corner. City Montreal, as CJNT will be known when its acquisition by Rogers is complete, is also launching a local morning show by September, which will go head-to-head with Global’s. Will the six-month head start make the difference for Global? We’ll see.
Shaw has promised a total of at least $5 million for the Global Montreal morning show through 2016-17, or about $1 million a year, second only to Toronto, which was promised $3 million a year. (This is the total of special funding and does not necessarily represent their entire budgets.) Shaw said the goal is to make the shows sustainable so they will keep running even after the special funds run out in 2017.
I’ve written up a brief for The Gazette, but I’ll be getting more details about the show this week as I talk to everyone involved for a longer story.
Global is also launching a local morning show in Halifax at the same time, completing its roll-out plan. Its cast includes Crystal Garrett, whose CV includes a stint as a host of This Morning Live.
On Monday, Global television debuted its new national morning show. It was kind of a surprise announcement before Christmas (unlike the local morning shows in Montreal and Halifax, which we’ve been waiting for since 2010), and didn’t get a lot of hype.
Having watched the first episode, it’s easy to see why. Though the idea of something to compete with Canada AM sounds pretty exciting, Global’s national morning show feels like exactly what it is: A half-hour extension to the Global Toronto morning show that doesn’t offer much that would take people away from their laptop screens, recordings of the previous night’s shows, or reruns on cable.
Now, I’ll admit that a lot of what I don’t like about this show is the kind of stuff I don’t like about most morning shows: a lack of actual information and depth, and this idea that we care about the most boring aspects of the hosts’ personal lives or their impromptu, uninformed thoughts about the news. It’s one thing when banter fills the 20 seconds at the end of an hour-long newscast, but to base an entire show off of this sounds like a waste of everyone’s time.
But I’m obviously not the target audience for this show. I might feel differently if I was a stay-at-home mom who apparently wants to watch this stuff.
Global announced on Wednesday that it is launching a new national morning show on Jan. 7. The half-hour show, hosted by Liza Fromer, would air live at 9am in Montreal and other Eastern Time markets,
8am 10am in the Maritimes, and on tape-delay at 9am in the rest of the country.
For most stations, this program would be led into by the local morning news show. This will include Montreal, though we’re still not closer to knowing when exactly a new morning show will launch here, except for the vague “early next year.”
The new show wouldn’t compete directly with CTV’s Canada AM, and might not stack up too well against other shows that air at 9am, but it has to do better than 100 Huntley Street.
Between this new show, the local morning shows (which are part of a promise to the CRTC when Shaw bought Canwest) and the planned March launch of Global’s B.C. One regional news channel, it’s clear that Shaw is putting lots of money into developing news at Global.
Not enough to put local control rooms back into smaller markets, but still quite a bit.
Saturday in The Gazette, I profile Global Montreal (CKMI), the station with Montreal’s third most popular local English-language TV newscast. With that piece is another about ratings for the local newscasts. Despite the generous space devoted to the stories in the paper, there’s plenty of detail I gathered over the past few weeks that didn’t end up in the story. Most is probably only of interest to people who really care about such things anyway.
So as a bonus for my blog readers, some things from my notebook and some meta-discussion about the story:
I have, in the past, been accused of bashing the local Global station, particularly by people who follow me on Twitter.
It’s true. I often use Twitter in particular to point out the errors of others. Not so much out of maliciousness, but out of interest. … Okay, sometimes out of maliciousness. But only when it really deserves it.
But I don’t have any particular beef with Global. I’m an equal-opportunity critic (except maybe when it comes to my employer). I’ve been accused of having crushes on the people I profile and having hate-ons for those I criticize. But my goal is to make everyone better, by recognizing hard work and making sure mistakes don’t go by unnoticed.
I first visited Global Montreal in the summer of 2009, shortly after it moved in to its new offices on the seventh floor of the Dorchester Square building that also houses The Gazette. Global is on the seventh floor (which was once used by The Gazette), The Gazette is on the second and third. The two were under common ownership at the time, and they invited us to a special open house. I went with my camera and had a look around.
I thought I would be incognito, and I was. (My blog was less than half the age it is now.) But near the end Jamie Orchard spotted me and engaged me in conversation, explaining the hard work she and her team do to put together a daily newscast. The things I had said about the station previously on my blog, about its plan to outsource local news production and use fake sets inserted via chroma key, weren’t particularly flattering. Not that it’s easy to sugarcoat when an organization fires three quarters of its staff.
What struck me about our conversation was that they didn’t think I understood the work they do on the daily basis, or might have thought I was blaming them for the quality of their newscast.
I don’t think Global offers Montreal’s best newscast, as the ads say. But that’s not the fault of the staff. The reporters are of high quality, and Orchard is a good anchor. Even Bill Haugland and a staff of Brian Britts couldn’t make a top-notch newscast with such few resources. My criticisms are directed at Global and its owners, who want to spend the bare minimum (I would argue less than that) on local programming so it doesn’t cut too much into the lazy profit it makes from rebroadcasting House, Family Guy and other popular American shows.
Considering the blog post I wrote after my last visit, I wasn’t sure if they’d agree to another one, this one to do a formal profile for The Gazette. I wanted to write something about them because of all the attention paid to their competitors recently, with CFCF getting its new studio and anchor, and CBMT announcing the coming arrival of weekend newscasts.
But Karen Macdonald, CKMI’s station manager, eagerly agreed, and in February I sat down with her in her little corner office for an hour to talk about stuff. After that, I was invited into the tiny studio (it’s about the size of two apartment bedrooms) to witness the broadcast of the half-hour evening news program live, with Jamie Orchard in the anchor chair.
It was a while until I could get the story done, partly because I had to track down a few people to interview, and partly because I had my actual job to do quite a bit.
Reaction to the published story has been positive so far. Jamie Orchard and Anne Leclair seem to think it’s positive, but I was more flattered when the latter referred to it as “accurate”. My goal was to give people a picture of what goes on there, and both sides of the argument about outsourcing production jobs.
The big change for one half of the Canwest empire now has a roadmap: Canwest announced this morning that Shaw Communications would buy a 20% equity interest and 80% controlling interest in Canwest Global once the company emerges from creditor protection.
Coverage at The Globe and Mail (of course, with analysis and more analysis), CBC, Reuters, Canadian Press, Wall Street Journal and Financial Post. Though financial terms won’t be disclosed until after regulatory approval, Shaw is spending at least $65 million on this acquisition.
Canwest Limited Partnership, which owns the National Post, Montreal Gazette, Canada.com and other publishing assets, is unaffected by this. They will still be auctioned off as part of their restructuring.
Corus Cable Empire?
Assuming the deal goes through (and there’s no big reason to believe it won’t), the Shaw family will have control over a worryingly large number of specialty channels in Canada. They have a controlling interest in Corus Entertainment, a company spun off from Shaw to get around a CRTC rule about cable companies owning specialty services – a rule that no longer exists.
Corus owns or has a majority interest in (copy-pasted from Wikipedia):
- CMT Canada (90%)
- Cosmopolitan TV (67%)
- Drive-In Classics (rebranding to Sundance Channel on March 1, 2010)
- Dusk (51%, the rest owned by Canwest already)
- SexTV: The Channel (rebranding to W Movies on March 1, 2010)
- SKY TG24 (50.5%)
- TLN (50.5%)
- tlñ en español (50.5%)
- Treehouse TV
- W Network
It also has a 50% share with Astral of the Teletoon channels.
Canwest owns – and Shaw would get:
- Fox Sports World Canada
- Mystery TV – 50% and managing partner
- TVtropolis – 66.7% and managing partner
And the former Alliance Atlantis channels through a deal with Goldman Sachs:
- (Showcase) Action
- BBC Canada – 80% and managing partner
- BBC Kids – 80% and managing partner
- Discovery Health Canada – 80% and managing partner
- DIY Network – 68.1% and managing partner (Corus owns a minority stake in this channel)
- Food Network Canada – 57.58% and managing partner (Corus owns a minority stake in this channel)
- History Television
- HGTV Canada – 80.24% and managing partner
- IFC Canada
- National Geographic Channel Canada – 80% and managing partner
- Showcase Diva
Add to all this minority stakes in mentv, One, Historia and Séries +, and you’ve got a pretty huge specialty empire here, 31 channels. That would put it ahead of CTVglobemedia’s 29 channels, and way ahead of other specialty players Astral Media (9 plus The Movie Network and Super Écran), Quebecor Media (8) and Rogers (6).
It should go without saying that the specialty assets – and not the Global Television Network – are why Shaw is interested in this acquisition.
The release says that Shaw would operate Canwest as a standalone company (instead of, say, just taking its assets and giving them to Corus), but you have to think that some sort of consolidation is going to happen if they can get it past the CRTC.
Another (albeit minor) question is what happens to the few conventional TV stations that Shaw and Corus own. Shaw owns CJBN in Kenora, Ont. (a station with the distinction of being Canada’s lowest-powered non-repeater, at 178 Watts), which is currently a CTV affiliate. Corus, meanwhile, owns CKWS Kingston and CHEX Peterborough in eastern Ontario, both of which carry CBC programming. None of the three stations are in cities with Global stations, so it’s conceivable they could all become Global affiliates or even sold to Canwest and become Global owned and operated stations.
Shaw’s second chance to prove its point
My favourite part of this story comes out of a quote from Canwest chairman Derek Burney (emphasis mine): “We look forward to benefitting from Shaw’s participation in a reinvigorated Canwest, as it is a strong business partner with a proven commitment to the Canadian television broadcasting industry. This significant investment in conventional television should be seen as a big vote of confidence in the industry and its future.”
Remember those “cable company cash cows”? Funny how useful one of them has suddenly become now that the TV company needs a bailout.
But as much as this is ironic for the Local TV Matters people, it also forces Shaw to prove its point about how conventional television isn’t in need of financial support from cable and satellite companies.
Last year, after Shaw sarcastically offered to buy three stations from CTV for $1, and CTV sarcastically accepted, it later pulled away from the deal, claiming that due dilligence showed the stations were hollowed out shells and work had been outsourced to other stations.
Shaw can’t make that excuse this time. While many Global stations are little more than a newsroom, a couple of editing suites and a green screen, Shaw gets the broadcast centres that control them, and can do with them as they wish.
So will Shaw back down from its tough talk about fee for carriage? Will Canwest pull out of the Local TV Matters group, stuck in the same awkward position as CityTV and TVA where the parent company cares more about protecting cable profits than local television?
We’ll find out within the next few months. (Though by the time Shaw’s acquisition is final, the fee for carriage debate might be over.)
UPDATE: The Financial Post explores a big thorn in the side of this deal: Goldman Sachs, which is still fighting with Canwest over the company that owns the former Alliance Atlantis channels.
A few months into its campaign to “Save Local Television”, CTV has managed to get its competitors CBC and Global to join its rebranded campaign “Local TV Matters” (there’s even a Twitter account!), trying to get public support for CRTC regulatory changes that would allow conventional television stations to charge cable and satellite companies for distribution of their signals.
The website’s FAQ lists PR-generated counter-arguments to some common complaints, but seems to ignore the history of conventional television and why it’s free in the first place.
Decades ago, before there was cable, conventional television was all there is. Most stations were locally-owned and had powerful transmitters to reach as many homes as possible. Revenue came from advertising, which was fine because everyone watched TV in primetime, and everyone watched the local news.
In the early days of cable, the specialty channels were low-budget affairs and highly specialized. Music videos on MuchMusic, live sports on TSN, non-stop weather updates on the Weather Network. Quality primetime programming came from the conventional networks like CTV, which was back then a cooperative of local stations. Local programming gave way to network (Canadian and U.S.) shows in primetime, but mornings and early evenings were still largely local affairs.
The proliferation of specialty channels is a large part of why conventional television isn’t what it used to be. The audience is fragmented, and the conventional networks’ piece of the pie has diminished, along with advertising.
Specialty networks don’t have to provide local programming, though on the other hand they cannot accept local advertising and they cannot transmit over the air.
Now that more than 90% of Canadians have cable or satellite service, the advantage of over-the-air transmitters is outweighed by their cost. And because most advertising is national in scope, and targetted to specific demographics that specialty channels are better at reaching, that advantage too has disappeared.
What’s left to give conventional television stations an advantage is the programming itself. But while many people still watch the news, it’s not enough to pay for it. In very few markets does local news attract enough advertising revenue to pay for itself. So those newscasts (especially in smaller markets) have been drastically cut. Local news has been replaced by more pre-packaged news packages from the networks. Programming outside of the local newscasts has been all but eliminated.
So what can we do about this? Should we just shut down the conventional networks? Obviously the networks don’t agree with that idea, because conventional television is still making them money.
How about a government bailout? Consumers would be opposed to that, and it creates all sorts of problems (should broadcasters be paid equally, or based on the ratings of their newscasts?). Besides, there already is one in the form of the Local Programming Improvement Fund, a 1.5% tax on cable and satellite companies’ revenues that goes to help programming in small-market stations.
What CTV et al are proposing is that broadcasters and distributors negotiate a fair market value for carrying their stations. It’s not entirely clear what the details are, such as whether consumers would be able to choose which conventional television stations they would pay for (they could pay for none of them and just hook up the rabbit ears to get them free), or whether they would be forced to pay for them like we’re forced to pay for CBC Newsworld and CPAC whether we want to or not (such mandatory carriage would leave cable and satellite companies without a bargaining chip, making negotiation difficult).
It’s the economics, stupid
The networks’ prime argument in launching this campaign is this:
One of the campaign’s concerns is that cable and satellite providers continue to charge viewers for our services, yet they pay nothing to local television stations. However, Canadian cable companies pay U.S. cable channels in excess of $300 million a year for their services, and these cable channels are not required to produce any Canadian content. The campaign members are standing up to change this system because they believe local stations deserve fairness so viewers can continue to enjoy local television programming now and in the years to come.
The argument about channels like Spike and CNN not producing Canadian content is valid. Of course, the CRTC takes this into consideration when approving a U.S. channel for distribution here. U.S. networks aren’t allowed to compete with Canadian ones on (basic) cable, which is why we didn’t have MTV to compete with MuchMusic or HBO to compete with the Movie Network until Canadian versions of those channels launched recently.
But the comparison to conventional television is based on a faulty assumption. People don’t pay for conventional television stations as part of their cable bills. People get cable because they want CNN and Spike, not the local news. The bills for basic service cover the physical cable service as well as CRTC-mandated specialty channels like Newsworld and CPAC. Cable and satellite companies don’t charge consumers to give them local television stations, because you can’t charge people for something they already get for free.
The big irony of the argument is that the CRTC mandates that cable and satellite companies distribute local television stations as part of their basic service at the request of those television stations. In cable’s infancy, local TV wanted to be on cable to reach larger markets and get more advertising revenue. They even got the CRTC to guarantee they’d get the lowest spots on the dial, which back then were considered prime electronic real estate.
But I understand times change. Things are different now, the model is broken.
At least, they say the model is broken. CTV and Global haven’t released detailed financial reports showing how much money they’re losing on conventional television (or if they’re losing any at all). We have only their self-serving word to go on here.
The CRTC will be debating the future of local television in November.
A side note about the “Local TV Matters” campaign: the website (which is WordPress-based) has open comments on its posts, and there’s already a lot of them from incredulous consumers asking why they’re being asked to pay more when their local programming is being cut to the bone. I’m a bit surprised the comments are still up there, and wonder what it will take for them to shut down dissenting consumer opinion.
Well, not quite.
The CRTC on Monday decided to hike the fee (temporarily, at least) for its Local Programming Improvement Fund from 1% to 1.5% of cable and satellite provider revenues (revenues, not profits), which would give broadcasters an additional $32 million a year ($100 million total in the new fund) to devote to local programming.
It’s a victory for broadcasters and a defeat for cable and satellite companies (and probably consumers). CBC is happy. Canwest is happy. CTV is happy. Bell is sad. Cogeco is sad (PDF). Rogers is sad. Videotron is sad. Bill Brioux is annoyed.
Especially when you consider how much the television industry is already subsidized through mandatory fees from cable and satellite companies (now 6.5% of their revenues) and funding from the government, all without us having a say in programming, you have to wonder whether it’s all worth it.
Best of all, the broadcasters say they need more.
The CRTC also released its conditions of license for one-year renewals for the major networks:
Many of the decisions below come from these renewals.
Finally, the CRTC has kicked the fee-for-carriage can (which was in turn kicked to them by a parliamentary committee) and other issues down the road to a hearing in September, where it will discuss that and other issues affecting broadcast television. The indication, however, is that the CRTC supports a fee-for-carriage idea, provided the fees are negotiated with broadcasters and cable/satellilte companies.
Harmonized local programming minimums
And how much more local programming will we be getting for all this extra money? We won’t! In fact, we’re getting less! Thanks to new “harmonized” minimum requirements, most stations in the country will now have to produce less local programming.
For English-language stations, the minimums will be 14 hours a week for large markets (Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver), and seven hours a week for smaller markets (including Halifax, Hamilton and Victoria), with some exceptions. This will mean reductions for CKMI (18 hours a week) and CFCF (15.5 hours a week). Stations with really high requirements might see massive cuts and layoffs. CHCH Hamilton, for example, has dropped from 36.5 hours to only seven, though they’re going to make a go at more local programming, at least in the short term.
For French-language stations (effectively just TVA since TQS has a special exception), it’s on a case-by-case basis:
- CFCM (Quebec City): 18 hours a week, down from 21
- CFER (Rimouski): 5 hours a week, up from 3:10
- CJPM (Chicoutimi): 5 hours a week, up from 3:10
- CHLT (Sherbrooke): 5 hours a week, up from 3:10
Independent stations owned by Radio-Nord (TVA Gatineau) and Télé Inter-Rives (SRC/TVA/TQS in Rivière du Loup, TVA in Carleton) maintain their current requirements.
Note that for French markets, only Montreal is larger than a million and is ineligible for LPIF funding.
In the same decision, the CRTC also rejected requests from broadcasters to eliminate requirements for priority programming (expensive dramas) and independent production (as opposed to in-house).
Global Quebec is now Global Montreal
After again rejecting union complaints that Global’s produced-out-of-Vancouver plan violates local programming requirements for Global Quebec (not saying it wasn’t in violation, only that there is “insufficient evidence” and it will “continue to monitor the situation”), the CRTC has approved a request to change CKMI from a Quebec City-based regional station to a local Montreal-based station.
CKMI-TV was once based in our provincial capital, but since it was purchased by Canwest and turned into a Global station it has effectively been headquartered in Montreal, with retransmitters in Quebec City and Sherbrooke (technically, the transmitter was in Quebec with a retransmitter, CKMI-TV-1, in Montreal). Global Quebec was licensed as a regional station, which meant it couldn’t take any local Montreal advertising. The license change makes it a local station which opens up that door (as small as it is) and allows the station to compete directly with CFCF and CBMT for local advertising.
A similar move was made for CIII, which is de facto Global’s Toronto station but was technically licensed to Paris, Ontario, which is west of Hamilton.
CJNT keeps ethnic minimum
A request from Canwest to relieve money-losing ethnic station CJNT Montreal of its ethnic programming requirement was denied. Canwest wanted 5 hours a week, but will be stuck at the original 13.5. Since the station is being sold, it won’t sadden Canwest too much to lose this battle.
Mandatory digital transition (or not?)
The CRTC recognized that some broadcasters are lagging behind in transitioning to digital. U.S. broadcasters were forced to make the switch last month (in a deadline that was delayed from February), but Canadians have until August 2011. The CRTC’s decision doesn’t suggest that this deadline will change for smaller markets (though it suggests perhaps a “hybrid model” may emerge), but it does say it “expects” that major markets will make the transition. It released a list of markets larger than 300,000 it “expects” will do so without complaint, and says it will discuss the issue further in September. The list includes Montréal, Quebec, Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke, Rivière-du-Loup, Saguenay, Ottawa-Gatineau, territorial and provincial capitals and large cities across Canada. Essentially any market with more than one station.
The issue (which also includes whether there should be U.S.-style subsidies for converter boxes) will be dealt with again in September.
CTV-Shaw rejects get renewed
Even though Shaw’s offer to buy them has fallen through, the CRTC has renewed licenses for CKX-TV in Brandon, Man., CHWI-TV in Wheatley/Windsor, Ont., and CKNX-TV in Wingham, Ont., for another year, despite CTV’s request that they be terminated. They’re still expected to shut down in August, although CTV says it is “reviewing” CHWI in light of the new funding. UPDATE: CTV says it will continue operating CHWI until Aug. 31, 2010. CKNX will be converted into a retransmitter, and CKX is still being shut down.
Other CTV stations which had the bare minimum of local programming have been relicensed as strictly retransmitters only:
- CKCO-TV-3 Oil Springs (Sarnia), Ont.
- CFRN-TV-3 Whitecourt, Alta.
- CFRN-TV-4 Ashmont, Alta.
- CFRN-TV-6 Red Deer, Alta.
Separate requests from Canwest and Rogers to allow them to duplicate content on E!/Global and City/OMNI respectively were denied by the CRTC. The stations (CHAN-TV Vancouver/CHEK-TV Victoria, CIII-TV Toronto/CHCH-TV Hamilton, and City/OMNI pairings in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver) are currently limited to 10% overlap since they are stations with the same owner in the same markets. Requests to be relieved of that restriction were denied.
City stays special
In addition to allowing more overlap between City and OMNI, Rogers asked to be allowed to redirect “priority programming” money (money for expensive Canadian dramas) into local programming, and remove an unusual requirement at City to air Canadian feature films. Both were denied. The Globe has a story.
CHOI News Talk?
RNC Media has applied to the CRTC for a license amendment for CHOI-FM in Quebec City, which would change it from an alternative rock format to 50% spoken word. CHOI has a rather rocky past with the CRTC.
Radio was doing OK last year
The CRTC has released financial statistics of Canadian radio stations (taken as a whole). Looking at all of Canada and Quebec in particular, the numbers are fairly stable on both sides of the balance sheet. Of particular note is AM radio in Quebec, which shows significant losses year after year while the rest of the country just about breaks even.
Asians Asians Asians!
Asian Television Network has gotten approval for a slew of new specialty channels:
- Hindi Movie Channel
- Hindi Movie Channel Two
- ATN Cricket Channel One
- ATN Cricket Channel Two
- ATN South Asian News – Hindi/English
- ATN South Asian News – English
- ATN South Asian News – Hindi
- ATN Music Network One (Hindi Music)
- ATN Music Netowrk Two (Hindi Music)
- ATN Asian Sports Network (English coverage of cricket, ball hockey, badminton)
ATN announced on Tuesday that nine channels, including some of the ones above, will premiere on Rogers Cable in the fall. The channels are being renamed to more interesting names.
Ashes to ashes, SCREAM to DUSK
Corus is rebranding its SCREAM! horror channel to DUSK, and expanding its niche to include “paranormal” and “supernatural” stuff that might not be so scary. I guess this means more X-Files? The change takes effect on Sept. 9 (09/09/09, as if that’s scary or paranormal or something).
In other news
- TVA got a slap on the wrist (hell, not even that) for failing to meet expectations regarding airing of Canadian films and closed-captioning. The CRTC “expects” they’ll meet those requirements in the future, or else they’re going to get a sternly-worded letter, I guess.
- The Globe and Mail is reporting that Al-Jazeera English may be close to approval as a specialty channel.
- CPAC has gotten approval for a license amendment that would allow it to broadcast non-CPAC-sounding stuff like music on Canada Day every year. Now it can let loose in an explosion of patriotism on July 1.
- Vision TV has given up and is now asking viewers to figure out its programming.
- Cogeco has asked to move its transmitter for CFGE-FM (Rhythme FM) in Sherbrooke and increase its transmitter power to improve reception.
- MusiquePlus has gotten authorization to hand over its 3.4% of revenues required for the production of Canadian music videos to MaxFACT instead of VideoFACT. The difference is mainly that MaxFACT is what MusiMax gives its money to and this would simplify things for them. The request got an intervention from ADISQ which was concerned that there would be less money for youth-oriented music videos as well as those from Quebec anglophones. MusiquePlus responded that it has no control over the procedures used by MaxFACT to allocate it money.
- The CRTC is mad at CHRC in St. Catharines for violating a number of conditions of its license. There is, of course, no actual penalty associated with such violations as long as you promise not to do it again.
- The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has dismissed a complaint against CJMF-FM in Quebec City regarding a promotion related to driving while on a cellphone. The CBSC concluded that the station was not, in fact, advocating that people drive while illegally talking on a cellphone without a hands-free device.
Global TV’s website, which many people still don’t know streams videos of hit TV shows that the network has rights to (like House and 24) has opened up a “classics” section where you can see some selected episodes of some ancient TV series.
The complete list so far (links to Wikipedia articles for reference):
- Dawson’s Creek
- The Facts of Life
- Good Times
- Just Shoot Me!
- Mad About You
- Married… With Children
- One Day at a Time
- Silver Spoons
- The Nanny
- Who’s the Boss?
Some of you might note that Mad About You, Just Shoot Me! and Married… With Children are staples of Canwest’s TVtropolis retro TV channel. The Facts of Life, Good Times, Maude and Who’s the Boss? are aired on Canwest’s Déjà View super-retro channel.
So far it’s just a smattering of about a dozen episodes from each of the series, but the collection will grow from there. The number of series will probably also expand as Canwest negotiates streaming rights for the shows out of the money they could be spending on bonuses for young sarcastic copy editors at their metro newspapers…
Global TV made a big announcement about its website redesign. It includes 30 “refurbished microsites” (read: branded pages for each show), an “up-to-the-minute Twitter function” (read: link to Twitter account), an “enhanced” and “dynamically updated” schedule guide (read: a schedule) and coming soon a “newly revamped search engine” (read: they’re fixing the search engine).
The new website also includes a new video player, which most Canadians still don’t know gives them access to Family Guy and House on demand. (Though it still doesn’t work properly for me.)
And it’s got lots of boxes with rounded corners, scrolling Flash menus and gradients, which we all know are required in any properly-designed site of this era.