Friday, 9 August 2013

Renaud Lavoie leaves cushy RDS for the TVA Sports adventure

News item: Hockey insider Renaud Lavoie is leaving RDS to join TVA Sports.

TVA was/is the 'main' private broadcast channel, as opposed to public broadcaster Radio-Canada, it's like CTV to CBC.  As a kid growing up, Radio-Canada, the french arm of the CBC, generally showed or attempted to show quality programming, while TVA showed all shlock and dubbed American shows like "CHiPS" and "SWAT".

Radio-Canada had "La Soirée du Hockey" on Saturday nights, which was a professional, almost highbrow telecast, with quality announcers like René Lecavalier, Gilles Tremblay, Richard Garneau, Claude Quenneville, and Lionel Duval among others.  It was sponsored by Molson, and during the 'beer wars' of the eighties, O'Keefe got some injunction from the courts to be allowed to air Nordiques games, and they were shown on TVA, with awful on-air dolts and production values.  Sometimes they would bump a Canadiens game on Saturdays and force us to watch a Nordiques games, and I would go insane.  I knew it was futile, but I never bought O'Keefe products ever.

TVA had other less than stellar moments, such as an election in the eighties, when they proudly bragged beforehand that they had acquired a computer, which was high-tech stuff at the time, and it would allow faster reporting of the results and earlier projection of the winners.  So at the start of the program, they had a whiz-bang digital graphic on the bottom of the screen showing the results, how many Parti Québécois candidates were leading, how many Libérals, how many Union Nationales and Créditistes, and surprisingly a Marxiste-Léniniste or two.  As the election results came in, more and more Marxistes started leading their ridings, but also some Rhinocéros, Communiste, etc.  After a while, they realized they had a problem, because no one else was reporting what they were seeing, on any other channel, so they turned off their computer and went back to the old manual tallying of votes, but they didn't have the staff on hand for that, they had a skeleton crew since they thought they were automated.  Their election night was a shambles, and they announced they'd use Radio Canada's results, a 'courtoisie' among colleagues.

When they investigated later, they realized they'd done a BASIC programming error, where a subroutine would attribute votes to the candidate based on alphabetical order, which is how so many fringe parties were thought to be leading their ridings.  For years after, 'l'ordinateur du dix', or, Channel 10's computer (the Montréal TVA station was Télé-Métropole on channel 10) was the source of great mirth in Québec, and an easy way to deride a popsicle stand of a TV network.  When they'd have technical difficulties, everyone would pipe up that it was time to "déploguer l'ordinateur du dix".  If your paycheque was wrong and you were working it out with your boss, he'd scratch his head and agree with you, and say that it must have been calculated by 'l'ordinateur du dix'.

Fast-forward to today, and RDS is now doing the Canadiens' broadcast, and after what I thought was a rough start, with Yvon Pednault among others being an irritant to the eardrums, they are now doing a great job, Pierre Houde and Marc Denis at the forefront.  RDS is the French sister network to TSN, and both are owned by Bell.

TVA Sports is the specialty offshoot of TVA, kind of like CTV Sportsnet was to CTV at its inception.  It is also trying to be the main competitor to RDS.  It is without Canadiens' broadcast rights, and is owned by Vidéotron, which is a Pierre Péladeau company.  I've never seen any of their programming, but to stay competitive, they cover the Canadiens and have an 'Antichambre' of their own, with Jacques Martin as a regular guest I believe.  They're jockeying for position with RDS, and getting ready for a day when Mr. Péladeau receives his NHL franchise and uses the taxpayer-built Nouveau Colisée to provide content for his networks, that he'll then use to extort usurious fees out of the Québec viewers, who are already paying for his team through their taxes.

As far as Renaud Lavoie jumping to TVA Sports good for him for the probable raise he got, but I'm sorry to see him go, he's excellent, and I put him on equal footing with Bob McKenzie in terms of the quality of his sources and his reliability.  I'll miss not seeing him on RDS.  He'll improve TVA Sports, they've had some clowns on there, I think Louis Jean is one of them.  Not even watching them, but catching their stuff from Twitter being bandied about, they've made some really bad mistakes and had some scoops that were plain wrong.  I know there was more than one, but the one I remember was when Marc Bergevin was announced as GM and he began the housecleaning, one of the TVA Sports guys, it might have been Louis Jean, tried to scoop everyone and said Scott Gomez was being bought out.  Which nobody else picked up on, Bob McKenzie and Renaud Lavoie said nothing for a few hours, then tweeted that that wasn't the case.  I'm sure a few greybeards in Québec clucked like I did that it must have been the fault of 'l'ordinateur du dix'.

I think back to when Damien Cox went to Sportsnet, leaving TSN.  He might have more airtime on Sportsnet, but he's surrounded by goons and lost some of his prestige I think.  At TSN, his acerbic tone and controversial nature worked well on "The Reporters".  Dave Hodge's forceful personality and formidable intellect kept him in check, as did the authority which Michael Farber can bring to a discussion.

Similarly, Adam Schefter was a trusted NFL reporter who broke a lot of stories on the contract/business side, and when he left the NFL Network I thought that would be a big loss for them.  I had a suspicion that he might suffer from the move to ESPN too, maybe he wouldn't be the preferred "Leaker in Chief" when he was no longer the company guy, but I needn't have worried, since his new employers are even more powerful and reach a broader audience.  He's even more popular now if anything.  What's interesting though is that the NFL Network replaced him with Jason La Canfora, who had a solid résumé and credibility before the hire, and they didn't really skip a beat.

So Renaud Lavoie is jumping ship to a much less powerful network, with a much smaller viewership, and one that doesn't enjoy an exclusive contract with the local NHL team.  It will be a feat if his reporting cred and the personal relationships he has cultivated over the years are enough to prevent the erosion of his reputation.

It'll be interesting to see how much of his prestige/kingmaker power Mr. Lavoie takes with him to TVA Sports.  No question that he's a good reporter, as I've said before I don't believe a rumour until it's tweeted by Bob McKenzie or him, but a lot of that credibility rubbed off from the other professionals at RDS, and the fact that they're the broadcast partners of the Canadiens.  Without that platform, he may have to work harder to get GM's, agents and players to confide in him, or use him as a conduit to leak strategic info.

So I do question the move, and wish he hadn't done it, mainly because out here in BC, there are no providers who carry TVA Sports.  I wish him the best all the same.

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