Omni Television (corporately styled as OMNI Television) is a Canadian television system and specialty channel owned by Rogers Sports & Media, a subsidiary of Rogers Communications. It currently consists of all six of Canada's conventional multicultural television stations, which are located in Ontario (two stations), British Columbia, Alberta (two stations), and an affiliate in Quebec.
The Omni brand originated from its flagship station CFMT in Toronto, originally known as MTV, as the first independent multicultural television station in Canada. The brand expanded to include a second station, CJMT in Toronto, to include Asian and African programming while CFMT retained its programming for European and Latino cultures, followed by the relaunch of the religious television stations in the Vancouver and Winnipeg television markets under the "Omni" brand before divesting them in 2008 and the addition of three stations in Western Canada.
Since September 2017, Omni began to be distributed throughout the remainder of the country, as a group of specialty channels with mandatory carriage, corresponding to the four general regions where it operates. This group is licensed under the blanket name Omni Regional; Rogers argued that revenue from mandatory carriage was necessary to restore and sustain the stations' local programming. Originally licensed by the CRTC on a three-year interim basis while the commission considered alternative proposals for a national multicultural channel, the broadcast regulator ultimately chose to re-licence Omni Regional until at least 2023, on the basis of commitments to expanded Canadian programming production.
Derived from the Latin word "omnis" meaning "all", "Omni" is not an acronym, although the name is written all in capital letters.
Toronto's CFMT launched in 1979 as Canada's first multilingual/multicultural television station, owned by Multilingual Television (Toronto) Ltd. The station was originally referred to as "MTV" before using its call letters to identify on-air in 1983 due to confusion with the American music video channel. As its initial format was 100% ethnic, the station experienced financial difficulties, and was on the verge of bankruptcy when Rogers stepped in and purchased it in 1986. Rogers then attempted to launch a similar multicultural station in Vancouver in 1996, 1999 and 2002, but all three attempts were rejected by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). It was, however, given a second multicultural licence in Toronto to provide room for additional multicultural programing, and launched CJMT as a sister station to CFMT in fall 2002. It was at this point that the "OMNI Television" brand was introduced, with CFMT and CJMT branded as "OMNI.1" and "OMNI.2" respectively.
The Omni brand was expanded in 2005, when Rogers acquired two religious TV stations, CHNU in the Vancouver market and CIIT in Winnipeg, from Trinity Television. CHNU was rebranded from "NOWTV" to "OMNI.10" in September 2005, while CIIT went on air as "OMNI.11" on February 6, 2006.
Several proposed changes to the Omni system were announced, either by Rogers or by the CRTC, during a one-month span from June to July 2007. First, on June 8, the CRTC granted Rogers licences to operate new multicultural stations in Calgary and Edmonton, beating out a competing proposal from Multivan Broadcast Corporation (which won the bid for the Vancouver multicultural licence in 2002 against Rogers and launched CHNM-TV).
On June 28, 2007, Rogers made public its offer to sell the religious-licensed Omni stations in Winnipeg and Vancouver as part of its contemporaneous purchase of Citytv (which the CRTC ordered CTVglobemedia to sell them off as part of the CHUM Limited takeover deal). Rogers indicated, however, that it viewed retaining the multilingual licences in Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton (effectively creating twinsticks in those three markets) as compatible with CRTC policy, since they are licensed to serve a different programming niche than the general interest Citytv stations.
On July 7, Rogers announced an agreement to purchase the aforementioned CHNM, finally securing a true multicultural television licence in Vancouver. The fact that Rogers had acquired the Calgary and Edmonton multicultural licences, beating out Multivan's competing applications, was cited as a major reason for the sale.
On September 28, the CRTC approved Rogers' takeover of the Citytv stations, giving the company one year to divest itself of the religious Omni stations. A tentative deal to sell the stations to S-VOX, owner of VisionTV, was announced on November 6. On March 31, 2008, the CRTC approved both Rogers' acquisition of CHNM and its sale of CIIT and CHNU to S-VOX. CHNU was rebranded as "CHNU 10" on October 31, 2007, a year before the Omni brand was transferred to CHNM. CIIT was rebranded "CIIT11" in July 2008, after S-VOX took control of the station. Both stations rebranded as Joytv on September 1, 2008; CHNM rebranded as "Omni BC" on the same date. The two new stations in Calgary and Edmonton launched on September 15, 2008 under the call letters CJCO and CJEO.
Rogers announced an agreement to acquire the one Canadian multicultural television station it did not already own, CJNT-DT Montreal on May 3, 2012, from Channel Zero, after having passed on the opportunity when the station was previously put up for sale in 2009 by Canwest during its financial difficulties. While intending to relaunch it as a Citytv station, Rogers did not rule out the possibility of requesting that CJNT be re-licensed as an English-language station, but in the meantime CJNT aired Omni programs (including Omni News) to fulfill much of its ethnic programming requirements after it became affiliated with Citytv prior to the sale. As part of the sale, Rogers requested that the CRTC convert CJNT to an English-language station, on the condition that both Channel Zero and Rogers provide services and resources to CFHD-DT, a newly proposed, locally owned multicultural station. Both were approved by the CRTC on December 20, 2012.
In recent years, the Omni stations have struggled financially; Rogers Media president Keith Pelley explained that between 2011 and 2014, advertising revenue had fallen from CA$80 million to CA$35 million. On May 30, 2013, Rogers announced the shutdown of production facilities at CJCO and CJEO, ending the production of local programming and news content from the Omni Alberta stations, and as a result, the discontinuation of the South Asian newscasts. On May 7, 2015, Rogers announced further cuts affecting Omni, including the re-structuring of the Omni News programs, the cancellation of V-Mix and Bollywood Boulevard, and the elimination of redundancy in technical staff between the Omni and Citytv stations.
All Rogers-owned Omni stations are licensed to air programming in no less than 20 languages to communities encompassing at least 20 cultures—ethnic programming comprises 60% of the Omni stations' schedules. The Toronto-based Omnis are differently licensed with respect to the languages and communities they serve: CFMT airs programming for European and Caribbean language communities, while CJMT airs programming for the Pan-Asian and Pan-African audiences.
In the past, Omni stations also scheduled a limited amount of English-language entertainment programming aimed at mainstream audiences, such as syndicated sitcom reruns, talk shows, and game shows, as well as CBS's late-night talk show lineup (primarily Late Show with David Letterman, and The Late Late Show under Tom Snyder. and the majority of Craig Ferguson's run). The Omni stations do not typically air primetime programs simulcast from U.S. networks, but Omni occasionally served as an overflow channel for Citytv after Rogers' purchase of the network—allowing them to maintain their simsub rights in its duopoly markets. Since the 2015–16 television season, all of these programs have been dropped, and nearly all of the Omni stations' schedules are devoted to ethnic programming.
While under Rogers ownership, CHNU and CIIT aired many of the same types of programs as CFMT and CJMT, despite the difference in the nature of service of multicultural and religious stations. CHNU and CIIT had previously aired many of the same types of syndicated sitcoms and multicultural programs shown regularly on the Omni stations in Toronto, and the Toronto stations carried some religious teaching programs. The common brand allowed cost savings for promotions and for the acquisition of the general-entertainment programs that all of the Omni stations had used to generate most of their revenues. However, due in particular to Vancouver multicultural station CHNM (while under Multivan ownership) and Toronto religious station CITS, which both opposed Rogers's acquisition of Trinity's religious stations, the Omni stations' core formats remained intact.
Omni Television stations have occasionally aired sporting events in minority languages, and in English as an overflow for Citytv or Sportsnet. Prior to their move to Citytv and the eventual acquisition of late games by CTV, the Omni stations aired late-afternoon NFL games for a period, and in the 2014 season, simulcast selected Thursday Night Football games with CBS and Sportsnet. During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Omni stations broadcast coverage of the games in minority languages, and on June 27, 2013, Omni.2 in Toronto broadcast Mandarin-language coverage of a Toronto Blue Jays Major League Baseball game started by Taiwanese player Chien-Ming Wang, marking the first ever Canadian MLB broadcast in the language.
Rogers acquired national media rights to the National Hockey League in November 2013. Beginning in the 2014–15 NHL season, the Omni stations added Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition, which broadcasts Punjabi-language telecasts of NHL games on Saturday nights, and selected playoff games. The Punjabi broadcasts are a continuation of CBC's past digital coverage of games in the language.
Beginning in the later half of the 2018 season, and expanding into the 2019 season, Omni has carried a regular schedule of Sunday-afternoon Blue Jays games in Tagalog.
Prior to its rebranding as Omni 1 in 2002, CFMT aired news in Portuguese, Italian and Cantonese from Monday to Friday, with a Mandarin program on the weekend. With the launch of CJMT (branded as Omni 2) a South Asian news program in English was aired, and Mandarin was expanded from weekends only to Monday to Friday newscasts.
CHNM, or Omni British Columbia, was branded as Channel M prior to its purchase by Rogers in 2008. As Channel M, and after being bought by Rogers, CHNM produced a national newscast in Punjabi, as well as Cantonese and Mandarin. Omni Alberta also produced newscasts in Cantonese and Mandarin, as well as an English language South Asian newscast, from its launch in 2008 until 2011. The programs featured coverage of Canadian news stories in the language, along with stories from foreign broadcasters in countries in which the language is natively spoken (or the Indian subcontinent, in the case of the Punjabi edition).
On May 7, 2015, Rogers announced a restructuring of Omni News programs as part of cutbacks that led to the loss of 110 jobs across the company. The existing newscasts would by replaced by new public affairs-oriented programs produced in Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi. The new programs featured in-depth discussion of local issues, and did not feature original news reporting. Colette Watson, Rogers' vice president of television, explained that the decision to drop the newscasts was financially motivated; the newscasts only brought in $3.9 million in advertising revenue per-year, but had production expenses of $9 million.
Rogers' decision to drop ethnic newscasts resulted in criticism by Julian Fantino, Member of Parliament for Vaughan, who described the loss of Italian-language news coverage to be "devastating"; Vaughan has a notably large population of Italians, Following an unsatisfactory response by the company, Fantino called upon Rogers representatives to appear before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
As part of the Omni Regional service, Rogers reinstated half-hour national newscasts in the Cantonese, Italian, Mandarin and Punjabi languages. In September 2020, Arabic and Tagalog newscasts were added.
Rogers subcontracted production of Omni's new Chinese-language newscasts to Fairchild Media Group, owner of the Cantonese Fairchild TV and Mandarin Talentvision channels. Unifor and community groups questioned whether this arrangement was in compliance with Omni Regional's CRTC license, which stated that the service would "produce and broadcast" half-hour national newscasts in multiple languages, but leaving it unclear whether they must be produced by the licensee itself. They also cited concerns over Fairchild's news coverage having historically skewed conservative. Rogers defended the partnership as compliant with the license, and stated that they had editorial control over the programs. Unifor stated that it would file a grievance and a complaint with the CRTC over this agreement. The CRTC dismissed the complaint in April 2018, ruling that "produce" was broadly defined to allow for subcontracting, and that Rogers' editorial control (including limits on content sharing with newscasts on Fairchild's own channels) were sufficient as to not reduce the diversity of voices.
Omni Television stations
In the fall of 2004, Omni launched high definition simulcasts of both Toronto stations, CFMT and CJMT. However, at the time both stations were only available through digital cable. In the summer of 2008, both stations began broadcasting digitally over-the-air. In December 2009, CHNM began broadcasting an over-the-air digital signal and broadcasts in standard definition.
On June 14, 2016, Rogers announced that it had submitted an application to the CRTC for a new, national specialty channel known as Omni Regional. The service would consist of four feeds; "Pacific", "Prairies", "East", and "ICI Quebec". These channels mirror the programming of the corresponding Omni Television O&O and affiliate stations in their respective regions (Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal). Rogers received a provisional a 9(1)(h) must-carry status for the service, which requires it to be offered on the basic service by all Canadian digital television providers. In regions where Omni already operates terrestrially, providers may be relieved from carrying the Omni Regional version of the service on their lineups, or vice versa.
The East feed specifically mirrors CJMT (Omni.2), which primarily focuses on the south and east Asian communities. CFMT (Omni.1), which focuses on European and Latin American communities, retains its existing distribution in southern and eastern Ontario.
Colette Watson, Rogers' vice president of television, stated that Omni Television was "not sustainable in its current state"; the company stated that must-carry status for the Omni Regional channels would result in an additional $14 million in annual revenue from carriage fees, which it planned to mostly invest into the production of daily half-hour national newscasts in the Cantonese, Italian, Mandarin, and Punjabi languages—programming that had been cancelled in 2015 in the previous round of cuts. Omni also pledged to increase its investments in original domestic content. The CRTC approved Rogers' application and must-carry status for Omni Regional on May 15, 2017, with reservations. It launched on September 1, 2017.
In its approval, the CRTC felt that the service's business model was financially unsustainable, as there were no significant plans for new original programming beyond newscasts, and that Rogers did not sufficiently demonstrate that the service would "ensure a sufficient reflection of Canada's third-language communities", as its structure does not sufficiently serve regions not currently served by an Omni station (such as Atlantic and Central Canada). As such, the CRTC recognized that there was "[an] exceptional need for a national, multilingual multi-ethnic programming service that can provide Canadians with news and current events programming in multiple languages from a Canadian perspective", and made a formal call for a national, multicultural specialty channel that would receive must-carry status. In the meantime, the CRTC granted a three-year, provisional must-carry status to Omni Regional.
The CRTC announced the eight applicants on April 17, 2018, which included competing proposals by companies such as Bell Media, the Corriere Canadese, and Ethnic Channels Group among others. Rogers proposed expansions of the Omni Regional service, including the addition of Arabic, Hindi, and Tagalog-language newscasts, local newscasts on the East, Pacific, and Prairies feeds in Mandarin and Punjabi, and in Italian on East (replacing the Italian national newscast, due to the concentration of Italians living in the region), and increased investment in original scripted and factual programming,
In May 2019, the CRTC approved Rogers' proposal to expand Omni Regional, with a new three-year license term taking effect September 1, 2020. Changes will include that at least 70% of the broadcast day and 70% of primetime must be devoted to Canadian productions, and at least 12 hours of programming per-week must be acquired from independent producers (including at least two hours per-week of programming reflecting the Atlantic provinces, and two hours reflecting Manitoba and Saskatchewan). The number of daily national newscasts will expand to six, and there will be six hours per-week of local news programming for Calgary/Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver. Programming must be governed by advisory panels for each region, and Rogers must maintain the over-the-air Omni stations during the services' license terms. The service must also be operated on a break-even basis, with all additional profit re-invested into its operations. Rogers is only allowed to solicit advertising in the regions of the existing broadcast television outlets.
The decision to maintain Rogers' service has been considered controversial; Montreal Gazette media analyst Steve Faguy noted that the CRTC's decision contained no discussion of any of the other proposals, which he considered "shocking". In June 2019, the Corriere Canadese sent a letter to the cabinet requesting an appeal of the CRTC's decision, citing that the Commission ignored "widespread and intense dissatisfaction" with Rogers and Omni "in respect of its minimal conditions of license for Omni Regional to serve the multi-lingual multi-ethnic community of Canadians". The complaint pointed out the CRTC's previous disagreement with the structure of Omni Regional upon its initial approval, and argued that the new proposal also weakened Omni's mandates to provide ethnic news and public affairs programming (replacing four hour-long programs in specific languages with six half-hour programs in non-specific third languages). It argued that "the CRTC choice is an affront to its original Call for a unique service, to the objectives of the Broadcasting Act and to the constitutionality of the principles of equality inherent in the Multiculturalism Act."
Independent Community Television Montreal (ICTV)—who had proposed a service known as Tele1—also requested an appeal, accusing CRTC commissioners Ian Scott and Caroline J. Simard of having "communicated independently with representatives of Rogers and Bell on multiple occasions and without notice to ICTV", resulting in an unfair process.
In August 2019, the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the case, and the CRTC's decision was upheld by the Department of Canadian Heritage.