It was just another case of a corporate giant doing what a corporate giant does and this won't be the last time it happens.
Last November, I was speaking at a conference for Canada’s water and wastewater industry and was asked to speak about the future of the news media in Canada and how water and wastewater utilities could get their messages out to the public in the face of a changing media environment.
I talked about what I see happening to traditional media and predicted drastic cutbacks in local news. I remember saying how I expected the length of TV newscasts to be cut within the next few years. That hour at 6pm would soon be cut in half. The same would happen at noon. The morning show would suffer the same fate, or maybe all local content would be replaced by one show out of Toronto.
I predicted this would just be the start. Eventually local TV newscasts would be totally eliminated. Gone.
I said CTV, owned by Bell Media, would make the first move. Global wouldn’t lead, but it eventually would have to follow.
I was only wrong about one thing about CTV. The program slashing started earlier than even I anticipated.
Last Wednesday Bell announced the elimination of CTV's noon newscasts in all markets across the country, except Toronto and it slashed all weekend newscasts on CTV stations, except in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. All newscasts on holidays are also gone.
Let's Talk About Hypocrisy
Just a little less than a year ago, Bell announced thousands of layoffs and said it would close or sell nine radio stations. We thought that was bad, until we got last week’s news.
It was interesting that Bell waited for its annual Let’s Talk Day to end before announcing these massive cuts once again. It’s pretty awkward to lay off thousands of your workers and then run a PR campaign to prop up mental health.
Last year, I wrote about the 2023 Bell cuts. That blog was read more than any other I wrote last year. I basically said as much as I hate to see people losing their jobs, I certainly wasn’t surprised it happened. We’ve seen a gradual series of cutbacks in traditional media for 30-years in Canada. It almost seems like the cuts are getting deeper because each one hurts more than the last.
Let’s hope the new owners of what used to be Bell-owned radio stations hire everyone who worked there to minimize layoffs. TV people won’t be so lucky.
Who's to Blame?
Bell blamed the federal government for the media bailout to take so long to arrive and said the money they’ll eventually get from Google and perhaps Meta won’t help enough.
Blaming the government is bullshit and Bell knows it.
As I have written before, the problem is not because of the quality of the news product it’s creating (although that’s part of it) and it’s certainly not because media bailouts have been delayed.
The real problem is advertisers have many other options, most of them sexier. The billions of dollars that used to go into Canada’s newspapers, magazines, and TV and radio stations are now going into US internet monsters like Meta, Google and Amazon.
Improving the quality of news programming won’t change that. Grabbing a few million dollars from internet companies for using news content won’t matter much either. The single problem facing Canadian media outlets is advertising dollars they used to rely on are going elsewhere. Canadian media outlets gain almost all their revenue from advertisers. When the advertisers took their money elsewhere, it was game over.
Sure you can complain about Bell’s corporate greed being responsible for the media downfall. Bell got a $40 million-dollar government handout and promised to put it into news content. Maybe it did and then proceeded to lose millions more who knows?
Bell made $2.96 billion dollars in the 2023 fiscal year. The company has been mocked by everyone from top politicians like the Prime Minister to internet keyboard warriors for not putting some of that profit into news.
Here’s the thing though. Bell is one of Canada’s biggest companies. Its leadership isn’t in the business of creating news content, unless it pays for itself. When it costs money and the bean counters can’t see a way to turn it around, corporate leaders aren’t doing their jobs if they don’t slash and burn. They’re responsible to their shareholders and not the viewing public.
It’s cold, but that’s just the way it is in the corporate world.
I thought about Dr. Dick Rice, who started CTV Edmonton’s predecessor CFRN TV in 1954. What would he have done? I’m pretty sure if news was costing him money, he would have taken less profit, rather than cutting newscasts and people. A different story would have been written last week.
That’s not the way big corporations work though. They’re not in the game of taking losses, if they don’t see a turnaround. Maybe the government shouldn’t have allowed Bell to takeover TV and radio stations years ago? What’s happening now isn’t a big surprise if you follow the money.
Don’t be shocked when Bell shows up in the news in a year from now to announce it is chopping more news programming, selling more assets and laying more people off.
It’s becoming a tradition in Canada.