People who follow me on Twitter know that one of my pet peeves is when the broadcast networks don’t air major live news events, preferring to relegate them to their all-news networks (if they have them) and/or websites.
Various arguments have been brought forth to justify this. Very few people don’t have access to all-news channels anymore. There’s less interest in live coverage of boring things. People who want it can get it online.
In the end, the biggest factor is money, with a little help from the CRTC. Simultaneous substitution rules encourage Canadian broadcast networks not only to run American programming, but to run it at the same time as the American stations do. They also, therefore, discourage Canadian networks from running Canadian programming during peak hours. As a bonus, relegating important programming to cable channels makes it more likely that people will subscribe to those channels, meaning increased subscription revenue.
In short, this is why we see regular-season NFL games Sunday afternoons on CTV, but all CFL games – even the Grey Cup – air on TSN instead. It’s not a question of ratings, because the Grey Cup gets huge ratings in Canada. It’s because the NFL games are on CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox, while the CFL games aren’t.
It’s win-win for the networks, while the only people who lose are Canadian viewers.
In the past few years, there has been a trend where live national and regional events don’t get carried on the broadcast stations. Elections are a prime example. Often election nights (particularly provincial elections where a local station would likely have to go it alone or in a small group) get little if any live coverage. Other major events not involving attractive British royalty getting married are also less likely to be seen on local over-the-air television stations.
During CTV Montreal’s noon newscast on Thursday, it was mentioned that there would be live coverage of Remembrance Day ceremonies at
11pm 11am Friday … on CTV News Channel.
Sure enough, looking at the schedule, I don’t see a Remembrance Day special on CTV’s main network.
As it turns out, there was a noting of the occasion on the network, and it was done in the most half-assed way I can think of. It was a video that looked like it had been created in the 90s (it wasn’t in HD, though some footage was in letterboxed 16:9) of the national anthem being played over stock footage of old veterans marching, followed by a trumped playing, and then two minutes of silence while old black and white war photos appeared on screen.
The video lasted a grand total of six minutes, from 10:56 to 11:02. Then it was back to regularly-scheduled programming already in progress.
What was so important that it couldn’t be pre-empted more than two minutes for Remembrance Day?
Yeah, that Barbara Walters female-panel talk show. And it’s not like it’s a special episode or something. No, when CTV cut to it, it was in the middle of a conversation on interracial dating.
The cut was half-assed at the beginning, too. The video cut into the Marilyn Denis show (an original CTV production) in mid-sentence, while they were discussing some fashion makeover. This bothered me a bit more because there’s no simultaneous substitution argument. Rather than simply cancel the show for a day, or make it four minutes shorter, or have four fewer minutes of advertising, they let it run as normal and just cut into it.
It’s not like this is breaking news they didn’t know was going to happen. Remembrance Day is not a surprise.
It’s a stunning lack of respect for the viewers of both programs, but that seems pale in comparison to how it treats veterans.
Every year, we get news stories about malls refusing access to veterans to sell their poppies, followed a day or two later by a follow-up story saying the mall’s management had changed its mind or that there was a misunderstanding. This year we had stories about people stealing poppy boxes. Each time the news is met with outrage.
Every year, news anchors and reporters wear the poppy religiously, knowing a failure to do so could result in the wrath of viewers.
And here we have CTV, which couldn’t be bothered to carry more than six minutes of Remembrance Day coverage because of two entirely forgettable daytime talk shows. It’s not like it would have cost them anything, since they were already producing special coverage for CTV News Channel.
Where’s the outrage?
How the networks covered Remembrance Day
- CBC: A two-hour special on the main network and CBC News Network
- Radio-Canada: A two-hour special on the main network and RDI
- CTV: Six minutes on the main network, live coverage on CTV News Channel
- Global: A one-hour live special, plus a half-hour documentary on Canada’s last WWI veteran
- TVA: No live special on main network (outside of regular news coverage). LCN checked in with ceremonies occasionally as it would car crashes or other stories
- V: An infomercial
- Télé-Québec: Nothing
- Sun News: Full live coverage
- CPAC: Full live coverage
- Assemblée nationale: Business as usual, minus a moment of silence at 11am
(Not being able to watch a dozen channels at once, it’s possible I missed brief acknowledgments of Remembrance Day from some of these stations. If you saw one, let me know.)
The radio stations weren’t much better. While CBC and Radio-Canada had moments of silence (which is eerie and confusing on radio), commercial music stations treated the matter briefly. CKBE 92.5 marked the passing of 11am with a call to remembrance, and CJFM 95.9 had a moment of silence (which lasted no more than 30 seconds).