Tag Archives: TV specialty channels

Razer to become MTV2

Starting Aug. 1, CTV is “rebranding” its Razer specialty channel (which had the occasional Buffy episode, but little else of interest to anyone over 12) to MTV2, which I can only imagine will make it suck more.

The move completes the transition of the specialty network from a youth-oriented TV network to a youth-oriented music TV channel in the same family as MuchMusic, MuchMoreMusic etc.

CRTC roundup: CTV wants everything in HD

Some interesting developments at the CRTC concerning TV specialty channels:

The CRTC held a hearing yesterday on applications for new specialty channels, though no questions were asked and the meeting lasted 10 minutes. The following are being considered:

  • CBC SportsPlus, an “amateur sports” network. This one has proved controversial since rumours first started about it in January, since amateur sports would comprise only 25% of programming. The rest would seem to be for overflow from Olympic and other sports coverage where CBC television and the Bold channel would be insufficient. CTV and Rogers have already complained about competition with their sports networks, while the Canadian Olympic Committee argues its 100% amateur sports channel proposal should be approved instead. (The Globe argues both channels should be approved) (UPDATE: The Tea Makers has some analysis of this proposed channel)
  • 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
  • EqualiTV, a disability issues network which sounds a lot like the Accessible Channel
  • YTV OneWorld, a youth network with emphasis on foreign programming (let’s hope “foreign” doesn’t mean “American”). The channel had already been approved in 2000, but never made it off the ground.
  • YTV POW!, a comic book/action youth network with foreign programming, which was also initially approved in 2000
  • Sportsnet 2, a soccer/cricket/rugby sports channel that has been approved in principle but had not met certain legal requirements for a license

Expect Diversion and Canada HD to get denied unless they become more specific about their programming, and EqualiTV to explain how it differs from the Accessible Chanel.

Meanwhile, CTV has applied to the CRTC for HD versions of the following cable channels:

  • RIS Info Sports (RDS’s sister station)
  • The Discovery Channel*
  • CTV Newsnet
  • Business News Network
  • MTV Canada
  • The Comedy Network
  • travel+escape
  • Outdoor Life Network

*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.

Shaw wants more boring sports channels

Shaw Cable has asked the CRTC for permission to add two new U.S.-based sporting channels to the list of digital cable channels available to Canadian consumers. Because the channels are non-Canadian, they have to show that these channels do not compete with any Canadian-based specialty channel.

The Big Ten Network is a channel that focuses exclusively on U.S. college sports: football, basketball and other sports from Big Ten college athletic conference. Some people might question the need for a TV network devoted exclusively to college sports, but those people would be stupid. Comments on the proposal are due by Friday, May 16.

The Sportsman Channel is devoted to hunting and fishing (so perhaps it would more appropriately be called the Killing Animals For Fun Channel, but I digress). Comments on that proposal are also due by Friday.

Neither channel obviously competes with any Canadian offering.

CBC launches two boring digital TV channels

Digital TV subscribers across Canada are noticing two new channels that weren’t there before. The CBC has arranged free previews on all the major systems, including Videotron (digital), Bell ExpressVu and Star Choice.

Bold

Bold is, near as I can tell, CBC’s answer to Showcase or Bravo. Its programming includes a bunch of second-run drama and comedy shows from CBC’s library, including MVP, The Tudors, Da Vinci’s City Hall, The Border, Intelligence, Dr. Who and a bunch of other shows I’ve never heard of.

It replaces CBC Country Canada, that other cable channel that nobody watches.

Bold can be found on Videotron Illico channel 106 and Bell ExpressVu channel 641.

Documentary

Documentary is self-explanatory, taking a bunch of stuff from CBC Newsworld and the NFB. It’s basically just a rebranding of The Documentary Channel, which the CBC bought a controlling interest in.

Documentary can be found on Videotron Illico channel 151 and ExpressVu channel 336.

The free preview lasts until April 29.

Elsewhere:

Habs bring ratings boost to HNIC

The Globe and Mail, at the end of a longer article on a possible new TV channel for CBC Sports, reports that the audience for Hockey Night in Canada actually went up last weekend when they telecasted the Habs game nationally instead of the Leafs, in every region except British Columbia. The increase is modest, and it doesn’t include Ontario (because they still got the Leafs game), where almost half the audience resides.

Still, a ratings increase speaks to CBC’s bottom line, so expect more nationally-telecast Habs games in the future.

The other part of the Globe article says the CBC is in the initial thinking phase of a new amateur sport TV specialty channel. They aren’t even close to going to the CRTC yet, so this is still a long ways off. It might also conflict with the Canadian Olympic Committee, which is also thinking of an amateur sport channel. (UPDATE: The Globe discusses some of the hurdles such a channel might face in getting regulatory approval)

Meanwhile, the CBC has applied to the CRTC for a license amendment allowing CBC Newsworld to setup an HD channel. It’s unlikely to face any opposition, so we could see CBC Newsworld HD within the next few months.

CRTC may radically change cable TV as we know it

Those of you who have been following the TQS saga know that the CRTC has decided to reconsider whether over-the-air broadcasters should be able to request licensing payments from cable and satellite companies that retransmit their signals to Canadian homes.

But the hearings set to take place in April go far beyond that, and touch just about every regulatory aspect of cable and satellite distribution systems across the country.

It’s referenced as Notice of Public Hearing 2007-10, and is currently in the comment/reply phase. In it, the CRTC says it is considering changes to the following rules:

  1. The rule that so-called “Category 1 specialty services” (a handful of digital TV specialty channels that are protected as to format) be immune from direct competition in terms of format from other channels. This ties into a larger debate about whether specialty channels in general should have government-imposed monopolies, when in practice they tend to compete. (For example, TSN and Rogers Sportsnet are licensed as national and regional channels, though they compete for coverage of hockey games; CBC NewsWorld and CTV NewsNet are similarly technically-different-but-realistically-competing channels)
  2. Similarly, how distinctions between channels with high original Canadian content (like say Discovery Channel or TSN) and those with little original Canadian content (Spike TV, Mystery Television) should be measured, and what incentives should be given to those who have more CanCon (channel placement, mandatory availability, more advertising time, free cookies, etc.).
  3. The rule that more than half of the channels available to any customer must be Canadian. (I can’t legally choose a package that includes more American channels than Canadian ones, though this is rarely a problem in practice because of the dozens of mandatory Canadian channels that are added as part of basic cable service)
  4. Whether a rule should be added requiring distributors to have one minority-language channel for every 10 majority-language channels they add.
  5. Rules that restrict distributors in terms of related channels owned by the same company. (Specifically, whether distributors should have to prove that related channels did not get undue preferential treatment instead of putting the onus on complainants who do not have access to internal documents)
  6. Rules that set minimum requirements for third-language programming.
  7. In general, how HD versions of standard-definition channels should be regulated.
  8. The rule that requires distributors wanting to add a third-language non-Canadian service to make a Canadian service in the same language (if one exists) also available.
  9. Rules that require some specialty channels to get 75% of their content from “independent producers” unaffiliated with the network.
  10. Rules that prohibit on-demand and pay-per-view networks from including advertising
  11. What rules, if any, should be added to prevent on-demand services from competing with regular specialty channels
  12. The rule limiting specialty channels to 12 minutes of advertising an hour (this limit is already being phased out for over-the-air broadcasters)
  13. What rules, if any, should be added to require more vigorous vetting of specialty channel applications (according to the CRTC’s calculations, only 14% of the networks they’ve approved have launched and are still in operation)
  14. What rules the CRTC should not allow exemptions for on a case-by-case basis
  15. The rule that requires community channels be distributed as part of the basic service
  16. What basic service should mean for direct-to-home satellite providers Bell ExpressVu and StarChoice (who for technological reasons have to provide the same channels to the entire country)
  17. Whether the CRTC should get involved with customer service complaints concerning cable and satellite companies
  18. Rules that govern the ownership and use of cable infrastructure inside residential buildings (does your cable company own the physical cable coming into your home, and can they prevent others from using it for competing services?)

Basically, just about everything is up in the air here, as the CRTC looks to simplify and deregulate the industry.

The broadness of the hearing resulted in an overwhelming 213 comments from everyone involved on both sides. Most were positive about the idea of deregulation. The largest out cry came from small-market community stations who panicked at the idea their stations would no longer be required on basic cable. That should be sufficient to get the CRTC to drop discussion of changes in those regulations.

Many of the proposed changes are a result of the Dunbar/Leblanc report into broadcast regulations, which recommended sweeping changes to deregulate the broadcast industry. They include:

  1. Easing of genre protections in specialty TV services and merging the different classes of channels
  2. Removing limits on advertising (since most stations use much less than the maximum allowed, they argue that market forces are doing more to self-regulate this)
  3. Encouraging more competition in over-the-air networks by putting less emphasis on how new broadcasters will affect existing broadcasters’ advertising revenue and bottom line
  4. Eliminating many rules that restrict how distributors can offer non-Canadian channels (requirements that they must be packaged together with similar Canadian offerings, for example)
  5. Fine-tuning “priority programming” rules so that broadcasters can’t save money by creating cheap reality shows and showing them during prime-time wastelands like Friday and Saturday nights during the summer
  6. Radically changing or even eliminating simultaneous substitution requirements that give Canadian networks a huge economic incentive to simply rebroadcast American prime-time programming instead of developing their own
  7. Reducing requirements for broadcasters to use programming from independent producers
  8. Adding incentives for networks that have increased Canadian content in terms of mandatory carriage and other perks
  9. Drop the idea that “channel placement” means anything anymore (seriously, are you less likely to view a programming because it’s on a higher-numbered channel?)
  10. Allow the CRTC to impose administrative fines for violations of license, instead of brandishing the increasingly hollow threat of license revocation.
  11. Give up trying to regulate the Internet
  12. Delete the rule that requires all Category 1 channels to be distributed as a package
  13. Eliminate “winback” rules that prohibit cable companies from marketing to customers who have just cancelled their service
  14. Stop obsessing over format when licensing new FM radio stations since they can just go around and change their format without CRTC approval anyway
  15. Easing restrictions on campus community radio stations, eliminating advertising caps and allowing more flexibility in terms of programming

The report, unsurprisingly was praised by potential newcomers to the market and condemned by existing broadcasters, who say it’s “far-reaching,” particularly in recommendations for simultaneous substitution, the golden goose for CTV and Global.

I’d like to focus on a few of these issues that affect television consumers:

Simultaneous substitution

Simultaneous substitution has been an important part of cable TV for over 30 years. Put simply, it’s the rule that when a Canadian and American channel are showing the same show, the cable company has to replace the American signal with the Canadian one, including all Canadian commercials. So when you’re watching House on Fox, you’re actually watching the Global feed instead of the Fox feed.

The reasoning behind this is so Canadian advertising gets preference over American advertising. Advertising revenue stays in Canada and supports our networks instead of American ones.

There are minor annoyances with this rule:

  • Shows are not synchronized to the second, so you end up watching the beginning of an episode and then two minutes later have to re-watch it from the beginning.
  • We don’t get to watch the way-cool Super Bowl commercials in Canada
  • Though the CRTC requirement provides for replacement only when signals are of “equal or better quality,” in practice the quality is never better and in many cases worse, though not enough for the cable companies to want to fight over it.

But the big problem with simultaneous substitution is an economic one. Unlike CRTC rules that encourage the development of original Canadian programming, this does the opposite. It encourages CTV and Global to buy Canadian rights to American programming at a tenth of the price it would cost them to produce their own, and simply rebroadcast it with their own commercials. As a result, both networks try their best to max out on American simulcasts, to the detriment of Canadian programming.

Getting rid of simsub would force Canadian networks to compete with American ones. They could continue to simply simulcast the programming, and lose half their audience (assuming people just randomly select the Canadian or American channel), they could negotiate better deals with the American networks (whose border affiliates could charge more for advertising), air the shows at different times (so Canadians would have more choice of when to watch popular programs) or they could create their own programming.

Simultaneous substitution is nothing but easy money for Canadian broadcasters. It is a cancer on Canadian broadcasting and it needs to be stopped.

Unfortunately, the words “simultaneous substitution” appear nowhere in the notice of public hearing. Which probably means it’s off the table, and the CRTC is too chicken to seriously discuss eliminating it.

Specialty service competition

I still get confused about the different classes of licenses for specialty TV channels. Some are required on basic cable, others are discretionary. Some are analog, others digital. Some must be available on digital services but not necessarily as part of the basic package. It goes on.

The CRTC is looking to reduce the number of categories, which separate channels based more on when they began than what they offer. One of the goals would be to allow more competition between some channels which currently enjoy a government-regulated monopoly on their genre. Channels like MuchMusic, TSN, Comedy Network and others are prohibited from having direct competition.

In practice, these kinds of things are hard to enforce, and networks that are technically different are competing with each other. But this isn’t a loophole to be closed, it’s an evolution to be encouraged. The barrier to entry isn’t the same as it was in the 1980s when there were a dozen channels. With the exception of a few special-interest channels like CPAC (which aren’t likely to have competition anyway), these channels are profit-driven enterprises and shouldn’t enjoy special access to niche markets.

Commercial advertising

It’s interesting that not everyone is maxing out on their allowed advertising minutes. I remain a bit skeptical that some networks won’t increase advertising significantly if they get desperate for money, and I would recommend that programming minimums that are currently expressed in half-hour blocks that include advertising instead be converted to minimums that exclude advertising. That way networks can’t save costs on original programming by simply adding more commercials and making their length shorter.

The CRTC’s suggested approach, phasing the limits out and carefully monitoring the situation afterward, seems prudent and justified.

Regulation of the Internet

When news first came out in the fall that the CRTC was considering Internet regulation the response from the public was immediate and overwhelming. They have since backed down.

Besides the fact that there are no barriers to entry on the Internet, no finite public airwaves to distribute fairly, and (net neutrality notwithstanding) no undue commercial pressures that favour some content over others, the simple fact remains that Internet regulation is pointless because it’s impossible to enforce.

The CRTC has seen the light on this, so thankfully we can move on.

The hearing is scheduled for April 7, 2008 in Gatineau. Comments are accepted until Friday. 

Rogers Sportsnet 2: Judgment play

The CRTC has approved a specialty TV service for Rogers called Rogers Sportsnet 2 (really? Couldn’t come up with anything better than that?), which is focused exclusively (90%) on soccer, cricket and rugby (also known as “the lesser team sports that only old British people watch). In fact, the license specifically prohibits the channel from carrying anything related to men’s ice hockey, basketball, U.S. and Canadian football and baseball (in other words, NHL, NBA, NFL, CFL, MLB, their minor leagues, junior leagues, amateur leagues, pee-wee leagues, street leagues or any other versions of these sports where the players have penises). This is to prevent competition with existing networks like TSN and RDS.

The application got two interventions, one from CTVglobemedia (which owns TSN), asking for a tougher restriction (Rogers initially offered a prohibition only on the major leagues, but agreed to the change), and the other from the Asian Television Network, which has its own cricket channel called Cricket Plus.

The latter got a funny-sounding response from Rogers, who said that because their channel focuses also on soccer and rugby, “the proposed service would not serve the interests of the cricket enthusiast as effectively as Cricket Plus.” Which is kind of like saying that because RDS carries baseball and football, it won’t serve the interests of hockey enthusiasts as well as the NHL Network. The idea of national exclusivity contracts (which is why NHL Network doesn’t carry any Canadian games) wasn’t brought up.

But that’s neither here nor there, since Cricket Plus doesn’t enjoy any guarantee from competition. What is interesting however, is that Cricket Plus is carried by Rogers cable, and so if the channels do end up competing with each other, it might be in Rogers’s interest to either remove Cricket Plus from its cable lineup or otherwise make it fail.

But perhaps I’m just being paranoid.

CTV is drunk with cable power

Just when you thought concentration of media ownership wasn’t such a bad thing, CTVglobemediaempire is asking the CRTC for the power to threaten to pull its cable channels off the air as a negotiating tactic with cable and satellite providers. This includes channels like Bravo!, the Comedy Network, CTV NewsNet, Discovery, MuchMusic (and the entire Much family), Space and TSN/RDS.

Aside from the outrageousness of punishing viewers as a negotiating tactic (as well as the legal ramifications of not giving us something we’ve paid for), most of these channels are licensed in a way that prohibits direct competition from other specialty channels.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If CTV wants to treat these channels like they’re private property to do with as it pleases, then the CRTC should allow free competition from other services.

NHL Network: Everything but the games

NHL Network logo NHL fans with digital cable rejoice: The NHL Network has its annual fall free preview until October 31. (Channel 110 on Videotron Illico, 421 on ExpressVu and 465 on StarChoice)

For the unfamiliar, NHL Network is a TSN-run station that carries nothing but NHL hockey coverage, with classic games, analysis shows, highlight reels and game recaps (with “NHL on the Fly”, the recaps happen as the games are still going on). It includes everything you’d expect from such a network, except for live games.

Unfortunately, the NHL Network is a victim of exclusivity contracts. First comes CBC with Saturday night Leafs games and most of the playoffs, then comes TSN with major games during the week and the rest of the playoff games. Then comes Rogers SportsNet with games in their markets (Senators, Flames, Oilers and Canucks) and by the time they’re done NHL Network is left with about 40 games in the entire season, of which none involves a Canadian team.

So remind me again why anyone would pay to have this channel on their lineup?

Anyway, enjoy the free preview.

UPDATE (Dec. 1): The network is apparently getting some success in the U.S., which is making some down there wonder how many die-hards there really are.

A Montreal cable access channel?

The CRTC is currently accepting public comments in advance of hearings to be held on new broadcasting applications. Among them is an interesting proposal for a new television station out of Montreal.

Télévision communautaire Frontenac is an organization of about a half-dozen people who live within three or four blocks of the Frontenac metro station. They want to put together a low-budget cable access channel specifically for their neighbourhood (but also the city).

The application (ZIP file with PDFs) is for a French-language Category 1 specialty channel community specialty channel for Bell Canada’s ExpressVu satellite service, which is nationwide and doesn’t provide community channels. (UPDATED: See comment below for more details.) Videotron, the local cable provider, has a similar service in Canal Vox, which it runs.

The station’s plan is to broadcast 25 hours a week, with 60% locally-produced community programming, of which 1 hour every week is new. Naturally, because of the bare-bonedness of the operation, it would not provide luxuries like closed-captioning or descriptive audio.

Montreal currently has a few other low-budget non-profit over-the-air channels, though none seem to conflict directly with the proposal:

  • CFTU-TV 29 (Canal Savoir), an education channel run and produced by Quebec’s universities
  • CIVM-TV 17 (Télé-Québec), a provincially-owned network with a variety of shows but with emphasis on educational programming for children
  • CJNT-TV 62 (CJNT Montreal/E!), a CanWest-owned multicultural station that fills its remaining schedule with much-needed celebrity gossip shows and second-rate U.S. network programming simulcasts.

The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 30 in B.C. Though it’s mainly about which of a dozen applicants will get a lucrative FM radio channel in Kelowna, there are a few other interesting television applications:

  • Vanessa, a French-language adult pay TV service with emphasis on … oh forget the euphemisms. It’s porn.
  • Movie Trailer TV, a really stupid idea for a channel of movie trailers and making-of documentaries.
  • Short Form TV, from the same folks as Movie Trailer TV, and whose sole programming restriction is that its content is short in length.
  • The Christian Network, which is self-explanatory but would seem to overlap significantly with the multifaith Vision TV.
  • Arya Persian TV, which doesn’t yet meet CRTC requirements.

The Accessible Channel: More talk

Here’s one I missed: Cable bills will be going up next year after the CRTC added a new required service (meaning all cable and satellite providers are required to carry it on all packages): The Accessible Channel.

The channel (according to its application) is basically supposed to be an all-day described video service, which would be an improvement over the current spotty DV which will be on maybe one show a day.

It makes sense, I suppose (though saying I don’t support it would no doubt brand me as evil, as would making smart-ass comments like “why is this a TV channel instead of a radio station?”). I certainly won’t mind paying the extra $0.20 a month for it, as long as that money goes toward making more shows accessible to the blind.

One criticism though: “Accessible Channel”? That sounds like programming for people in wheelchairs. Why not “Described Video Channel” or something more precise?

UPDATE (Sept. 23): Accessibility writer Joe Clark files an appeal of the decision which makes some very thoughtful points about ghettoization of blind viewers and passing the buck on a serious problem. Instead, he recommends that all broadcasters be required to provide descriptive audio service like they’re required to provide closed-captioning.