French-language radio stations are facing a glut of Lady Gaga. It's all because of musical montages – long excerpts of songs mixed together on radio – that are a potential threat to Canadian culture, according to a ruling by the federal broadcast regulator.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said on Thursday that montages (defined as compilations of song excerpts, played without interruption) are being used by some radio stations to work around their Cancon obligations.
Two French-language pop music stations – CKTF-FM, the Gatineau, Que., station in Astral Media Inc. 's NRJ network, and Cogeco Inc. 's CKOI-FM in Montreal – have been filling up to 18 per cent of their air time with musical montages. In regulatory terms, a montage only counts as one song. So radio stations fill lengthy montages with mostly English-language and non-Canadian pop songs to get around quotas.
The idea behind allowing montages, the CRTC says, is to give listeners a sampling of music and a way to discover new Canadian and French-language artists.
"They were clearly circumventing the rules for French-language music," CRTC vice-chairman of broadcasting Tom Pentefountas said. "There are a lot of French-language stations … the stations that are going after an older demographic have less of a problem, but among the pop stations marketing to younger listeners, it's a bigger problem."
Because of the challenges promoting French-language Canadian content, the regulator announced Thursday it will be collecting data on the music industry and private radio business in French-language markets. It will host a symposium with industry players to discuss its findings, and will begin a review of its policies on francophone commercial radio in early 2012.
Groups representing the music industry had complained to the CRTC about the growing misuse of montages, leading up to a hearing in May. Quebec industry association ADISQ complained late last year, and received support from SOCAN (the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) and the French counterpart of the Canadian Music Publishers Association, APEM, in January. The radio stations pushed the limits of the rules, playing songs back to back with the last 5 per cent of the song cut out in order to constitute a montage, ADISQ said.
"In the last two years … they were doing it more frequently to avoid complying with the regulations concerning francophone music," said ADISQ executive director Solange Drouin. "The montage should be used to present new artists. It's not for Beyoncé and Gaga."
On Thursday, the CRTC announced its decision to "[take]radio stations to task" on the issue. That means limiting their play of montages to 10 per cent or less of the schedule each broadcast week.
For Astral's station, which was the only one of the two up for renewal, the regulator handed down a shorter broadcast licence, good for four years instead of the usual seven.
This is the regulator's usual course of action when it finds the companies it oversees have violated its rules, but the situation is not extreme enough to warrant pulling the licence altogether. The CRTC does not have the power to fine broadcast companies for violations, and has complained to the federal government that its alternative, awarding shorter licences, amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist.
"We are reaching out today to our fellow radio broadcasters and l'ADISQ … to find constructive solutions that will ensure the continued success of francophone artists and their music, as well as ensure a prosperous future for the radio broadcasting industry," Astral spokesman Hugues Mousseau said in a statement. "We believe that from that symposium can emerge solutions that can benefit all listeners and both our industries." Representatives from Astral could not be reached for comment.
Since Cogeco purchased its station from Corus Entertainment Inc. in a deal that closed in February, the company says it has already scaled back its use of montages, and will comply with the decision to limit them to 10 per cent of the schedule. But Cogeco also said that it is becoming more challenging to market French-language music even in francophone markets.
"In bilingual markets like Montreal, more and more young French listeners go and get their English music on English radio stations, or on the Internet. So if you run a French music radio station and you want to keep those listeners, the challenge becomes even higher," Cogeco spokesman René Guimond said in an interview. "We want to support French music. It's very important for us. But those artists also need the French stations to be healthy. So there's a fine balance we have to find here."