Dear Minister Guilbeault,
When I read on Steve Faguy’s excellent Twitter account that CTV was transitioning three of its analogue OTA TV retransmitters in Alberta to digital this week, I was curious to find out why Bell Media was opting to make the change to digital at the three broadcast sites. Why not just shut them down as part of CTV vacating the 600 MHz band as required by ISED’s ongoing repack of the spectrum?
While Bell Media will be shuttering CTV analogue retransmitters serving CFCN-TV-10 Fernie, CFCN-TV-15 Invemere and CFCNTV-9 Cranbrook in B.C., CFRN-TV-12 Athabaska, CFRN-TV-3 Whitecourt, CFRN-TV-4 Ashmount, CFRN-TV-5 Lac La Biche, CFRN-TV-7 Lougheed and CFRN-TV-9 Slave Lake in Alberta and CFQC-TV-1 Stranraer, CFQC-TV-2 North Battleford, CKMC-TV Swift Current and CKMJ-TV Marquis in Saskatchewan on February, 26, 2021 (as approved by the CRTC in 2019 via Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2019-268), Bell will transition CFCN-TV-2 Banff, CFCN-TV-14 Canmore and CFCN-TV-13 Pigeon Mountain in Alberta to the ATSC digital OTA television broadcast standard on the same day.
In order to find out more about the move, I reached out to CTV Alberta Engineering and heard back from Dale Coutts C.E.T., Director, Engineering, IT and On Air Operations for Bell Media Inc / CTV Calgary / Bell Media Radio Calgary.
According to Coutts, CFCN-TV-2 Banff, CFCN-TV-14 Canmore and CFCN-TV-13 Pigeon Mountain have retained their value as retransmitters of CFCN-DT Calgary in the digital age for a number of reasons.
In terms of how CFCN-TV-2 Banff, CFCN-TV-14 Canmore and CFCN-TV-13 Pigeon Mountain even survived being shut down in 2011 as part of Canada’s 700 MHz digital television transition, Coutts noted the following today via a telephone interview:
“We felt even in 2011, there was still a lot of people who were watching analogue and that was their only form of television. Over the years, we have decommissioned many of our transmitters but we felt that in that area, being so close to Calgary and a lot of our advertising, or some advertising, still does come from Banff/Canmore area. We have a lot of Calgary people spending time, they have second houses or cottages in that area, we felt it was very important to keep things going in that area because of the closeness to Calgary…we do know that in the Canmore/Banff area, we do have significant amount of viewers there.”
With regards to the interest in investing in a transition to digital OTA at the three sites in 2021 as part of Canada’s 600 MHz transition, Coutts stated,
“We felt it was important to keep the viewers going in that area. And in our case, because these are very low power transmitters, for example, the Pigeon Mountain transmitter is only going to be a 1.5 watt transmitter. The Harvie Heights one, from memory, it’s going to be about 4.5 watts and Banff around 7.5 watts. So the technology that, or the price point, on replacing those transmitters as opposed to a 10,000 watt transmitter anywhere else is extremely significant. We felt it made sense to replace, because there wasn’t going to be a huge capital involvement in keeping those areas going, that’s why we managed to find the capital to be able to keep them running.”
When asked how OTA TV access compares to watching television online or via cable or satellite, Coutts responded as follows:
“The type of people who live in that area traditionally don’t spend money on cable or satellite. A good percentage of them don’t. So if they can get it for free, they’ll take it for free. But I don’t think they would go out and specifically pay money to do that because it’s such a unique environment there that that’s just a different mindset for the folks who are in the area. There’s a lot of transitional people in the Banff area that support the seasonal industries. For example, skiing, you get a lot of out of country people coming in to support, or be part of the support for the ski hills. So in their case, they tend to be people who are not going to invest a lot of money in anything other than perhaps having a TV that they might use for their computer. Double-duty and say, hey, for free, I get TV. And that’s, I would suggest that there’s quite a higher percentage of those sorts of people that would be interested in watching us that way.”
Coutts noted that the ERP at the three sites would be reduced “because digital is very much more effective” and the HAAT will remain unchanged.
While Coutts said there are no plans to multiplex subchannels from the newly digital transmitters, he noted that they are ATSC 3.0 ready if CTV Calgary ever transitions to the new standard.
“I’ve been doing this for many, many years. I’m 41 years and into my 42nd now”, said Coutts. “I’ve always been working on the transmitter side and I’m, this is one of those things where, the bucket list to be able to get this part of our coverage area to HD is very satisfying for me. The fact that we can continue serving our clients in that area and at much better quality than what they’re going to be able to get on cable or satellite.”
For those who watch CTV via CFCN-TV-2 Banff, CFCN-TV-14 Canmore and/or CFCN-TV-13 Pigeon Mountain, a rescan of an ATSC television or adapter box will be needed to continue viewing CTV Calgary (provided the new retransmitters reach your home).