Around The Dial: Broadcast & Media News Today

News about media and the regulatory environment both inside and beyond Canada's borders.

In the NEWS

Digital has not killed the radio frequency in Canada — yet: As Norway moves to eliminate FM, 14 radio stations are experimenting with HD Radio here: Norway may be switching off its FM radio network in favour of digital but don't expect the same type of tune-out to happen in Canada any time soon.

The shift to digital radio technology — touted for its clearer sound and potential for more channels — is taking place at a much slower, wait-and-see pace here, say broadcasters and industry analysts.

That's not to say we haven't already tried. During the late '90s and 2000s, Canada experimented with the digital audio broadcasting (DAB) model that Norway will shift to this week — and it was a flop.

Duff Roman was instrumental in trying to make DAB a success here as president of Digital Radio Rollout Inc., a consortium of private and public broadcasters, but ultimately couldn't woo the Americans to follow.

"We tried our best to get them onside. They didn't want to do it," he said -- Haydn Watters, CBC

-- Bell activates Montreal’s first HD Radio station, simulcasts CJAD, TSN 690 on FM HD: As major Canadian broadcasters begin their experimentation with HD Radio transmitters, Bell Media has quietly launched a transmitter on its CITE-FM station in Montreal (Rouge FM 107.3), and is using it to simulcast CJAD 800 and TSN Radio 690.

A Bell Media spokesperson confirmed that this is a “soft launch” of the transmitter, with plans to publicize it more in the coming weeks, once testing is complete and everyone is back from the holidays. The plan is to keep the three channels going forward -- Steve Faguy, Fagstein blog

-- QNX operating system puts BlackBerry in the driver’s seat for the car-tech revolution: At the CES tech show in Las Vegas this week, BlackBerry announced a new operating system for the automotive industry that “can run highly complex software, including neural networks and artificial intelligence algorithms.”

Currently, most in-vehicle software is a series of separate components — blind-spot detection, lane-keep assist, pedestrian recognition — that aren’t able to talk to each other, said John Wall, senior vice-president and head of BlackBerry QNX.

“The software that’s in the car today, all these discrete components developed on very primitive operating systems … it’s not up to the task of what’s being asked of the vehicle in the future,” Wall said in an interview at CES. “That’s why you need an operating system like we’ve developed to be able to handle that complexity” -- Kristine Owram, Financial Post

--  Indigenous media audiences are bigger than ever, but — like others in the industry — profits remain elusive: “Here’s an obnoxious thing,” Ryan McMahon said. “I’m the most celebrated and decorated native comedian in Canada, I’ve done six specials, I’ve toured nationally, I’ve done Just for Laughs. But does your resumé pay your mortgage or feed your kids? No.”

McMahon, who is Anishinaabe and calls Winnipeg home, has before him a coffee and a problem. Seated at the downstairs cafe in Toronto’s trendy Gladstone Hotel, the media entrepreneur has a huge audience and, well, that is all for the moment -- Sean Craig, Financial Post

But he is representative of an important trend in Canada: indigenous media is growing, and it has a greater audience than ever before, yet it still faces the same risks as the rest of the media industry: a lack of advertising revenue, and a whole bunch of new business models that don’t pay the bills on their own.

McMahon’s podcast, Red Man Laughing, draws as many as 10,000 listeners and they tune in for 40 minutes, a stickiness that has made digital audio a growing curiosity for advertisers, but not enough to scale a small-sized business since even ads in the highest-rated podcasts only sell for US$50 to US$100 per 1,000 listeners (called CPMs) -- Sean Craig, Financial Post

-- Shares of the world's largest internet radio service tumbled on Friday morning after would-be merger partner Sirius XM, gave every indication that it's not focused on a company-changing merger or acquisition. Pandora's stock has been lifted at various points over the past year on speculation that Sirius, the satellite-radio operator controlled by billionaire media mogul John Malone, had delivered a buyout offer. The news shaved off as much as US$100M from its NYSE stock price in the day -- The Street, MBW

-- Sirius XM Holdings has announced it ended 2016 with over 31.3M subscribers, adding more than 1.7M net subscriber additions, coming in ahead of its previous guidance of 1.7M net subscriber additions.

Self-pay net subscriber additions in 2016 were 1.66M, exceeding the company's increased guidance of 1.6M, and resulting in self-pay subscriptions of approximately 26M at yearend.

The company also announced that it expects to meet or exceed its 2016 guidance for revenue, adjusted EBITDA and free cash flow.

The company also issued 2017 forecasts, including self-pay net subscriber additions of approximately 1.3M and revenue of approximately $5.3B.

-- Former shock jock Dean Blundell and producer Derek Welsman, show producer and occasional on-air personality for the now-defunct Dean Blundell Show on 102.1 The Edge, appear to have contributed to charges against a Toronto man for sexual assault and forcible confinement overturned. Last fall, the Ontario Court of Appeal quashed Joshua Dowholis’ 2013 convictions on three counts of aggravated sexual assault and two of forcible confinement and ordered a new trial after the panel found that jury foreman Welsman's “demeaning” comments about homosexuals on the Corus-owned FM reflected a bias that would affect his ability to decide fairly -- Toronto Sun, The Star

-- CRTC Commissioner Candice Molnar’s term ended Friday after nine years with the regulator in charge of broadcast and telecommunications policies. Only seven commissioners remain after Molnar’s departure, with two more including chairman Jean-Pierre Blais scheduled to depart this spring unless their terms are renewed -- Emily Jackson, Financial Post

--BCE Inc. has emerged victorious from a $350M patent infringement lawsuit after Mediatube Corp. and Northvu Inc. that accused it of infringing an IPTV patent admitted during trial that the telecom giant did no such thing.

They sought punitive damages of $350M, claiming the damages could go up to $1B by the time the case went to trial, given the growth of Fibe TV. Bell is now the largest TV provider in Canada.

But the federal court ruled last week that Bell did not infringe the patent and was awarded its costs elevated by 50% -- Emily Jackson, Financial Post



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