Bell Media is ending multiple television newscasts and making other programming cuts after its parent company announced widespread layoffs and the sale of 45 of its 103 regional radio stations.
News stations such as CTV and BNN Bloomberg would be affected immediately, according to an internal memo sent to Bell Media employees on Thursday.
The memo, signed by Dave Daigle, vice-president of local TV, radio and Bell Media Studios, and Richard Gray, vice-president of news at Bell Media, said weekday noon newscasts at all CTV stations except Toronto would end.
It is also scrapping its 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts on weekends at all CTV and CTV2 stations except Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
Daigle and Gray said “multi-skilled journalists” would replace news correspondent and technician teams reporting to CTV National News in Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, while other correspondent changes would be made in Ottawa.
Mirko Bibic, pictured in October, says Bell Media’s advertising revenues declined by $140 million in 2023 compared with the year before. (CBC)Earlier in the day, Bell Media’s parent company BCE Inc. announced it was cutting nine per cent of its workforce.
The company announced Thursday in an open letter signed by chief executive Mirko Bibic that 4,800 jobs “at all levels of the company” would be cut. Fewer than 10 per cent of the total job cuts are at Bell Media specifically.
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This round of job cuts is BCE’s largest in nearly 30 years, Bibic added during a Thursday conference call.
Some employees have already been notified or were to be informed Thursday of being laid off, while the balance will be told by the spring. Bibic said the company will use vacancies and natural attrition to minimize layoffs as much as possible.
Bell is also ending evening programs The Debate, This Hour and Top 3 Tonight on CTV News Channel, which will be replaced by a four-hour news broadcast on weeknights beginning at 6 p.m.
At BNN Bloomberg, weekday daytime programming is “being streamlined” to reduce the number of separate broadcasts.
Daigle and Gray also said W5 will shift from a standalone documentary series to a “multi-platform investigative reporting unit” featured on CTV National News, CTVNews.ca and other news platforms.
Heritage minister ‘extremely disappointed’ in decision”I am extremely disappointed in Bell Canada’s decision for many reasons,” said Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge during a press conference.
“In the past decade, when acquisitions were allowed for those big companies to acquire television stations or radio stations, it came with the promise that they would deliver on news content. And today, they are backing [away] from that promise.”
WATCH | Bell backing away from promise on news content, says heritage minister:
Heritage minister asked about BCE job cuts, local news changesHeritage Minister Pascale St-Onge was asked Thursday about the latest round of cuts at BCE, which includes Bell Media layoffs and changes to local news.
It marks the second major layoff at the media and telecommunications giant since last spring, when six per cent of Bell Media jobs were eliminated and nine radio stations were either shuttered or sold.
The company will divest 45 radio stations to seven buyers: Vista Radio, Whiteoaks, Durham Radio, My Broadcasting Corp., ZoomerMedia, Arsenal Media and Maritime Broadcasting. The sales are subject to CRTC approval and other closing conditions.
The stations being sold are in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
“We’ve effectively sold off half of our radio portfolio. That’s a significant divestiture and it’s because it’s not a viable business anymore,” said Bell chief legal and regulatory officer Robert Malcolmson.
“We will continue to operate ones that are viable, but this is a business that is going in the wrong direction.”
BCE increasing quarterly dividendWhile some financial analysts anticipated that BCE would be making changes and likely laying off employees, “I think these are much bigger than what people were anticipating,” Patrick Horan, a portfolio manager at Agilith Capital, said in an interview with CBC News.
“The source of this is a dividend policy that has really become out of whack,” added Horan.
BCE will now pay a quarterly dividend of 99.75 cents per common share, up from 96.75 cents per share, the company said Thursday. Dividends are a portion of earnings that companies pay out to their shareholders, usually every quarter.
“Typically, the companies pay about 50 per cent of their earnings in dividends, and they’re up to about 130 per cent right now of their earnings. So I think that’s pressuring the company to produce more free cash flow.”
‘Digital transformation’Bell Media is in the midst of a “digital transformation” for both entertainment and news, said Malcolmson, the chief legal officer. But whether or not prioritizing digital growth will be a viable way to generate profit remains to be determined.
He blamed the federal government for taking too long to provide relief for media companies as well as the CRTC for being too slow to react to a “crisis that is immediate.”
That extends to two pieces of legislation intended to help Canada’s struggling media sector: Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, meant to force tech giants to compensate Canadian news outlets for their content, and Bill C-11, which updates the Broadcasting Act to require digital platforms such as Netflix, YouTube and TikTok to contribute and promote Canadian content.
Thursday’s job losses at Bell Media are directly tied to regulator direction on Bill C-11, Malcolmson said.
Ottawa remains in a standoff with Facebook parent company Meta over C-18, with the company continuing to block news links on its platforms. Meanwhile, the federal government capped the amount of money broadcast media can get from Google’s $100 million annual payments at $30 million, with the remainder to go to print and digital news outlets.
“We’ve been advocating for reform for years. It’s not coming fast enough and when it does come, it doesn’t provide meaningful help,” said Malcolmson.
News losing $40M a yearBell has fought other regulatory decisions over the past year.
In November, the CRTC directed telecom giants, including Bell, to give independent competitors access to their high-speed fibre optic networks at regulated rates.
Bell planned to appeal the decision, saying that the regulations undermine the millions the company has spent to build that network out. On Tuesday, the company reportedly asked the federal government to rescind the CRTC’s decision.
There was also an October application to the Federal Court of Appeal seeking to overturn a CRTC decision that renewed its broadcast licences for three more years.
It argued that decision was made without a public hearing and could result in the regulator prejudging its requests last June to waive local news and Canadian programming requirements for its television stations.
WATCH | B.C. premier slams corporation behind Bell media job cuts:
‘Shame on you’: B.C. premier slams corporation behind Bell media job cutsDavid Eby called on the federal government to intervene over an announcement by BCE Inc. to cut 4,800 jobs and sell off 45 radio stations, describing the company and others like it as “corporate vampires” that have “overseen the encrapification of local news.”
Bell Media’s advertising revenues declined by $140 million in 2023 compared with the year before, and the company’s news division is seeing more than $40 million in annual operating losses, Bibic stated in his letter.
He added during the Thursday call that the company is “shifting our focus away from overly regulated parts of our business.”
“We want to deliver news but we want to find a way to make this work,” he said, adding that media companies are facing increasing competition from tech giants, while navigating an advertising slump and the decline of traditional broadcast media.
On Thursday, Bell said it could also further scale back network investments on its telecom side as it remains at odds with the CRTC over what it calls “predetermined” regulatory direction.
Asked about the company’s image in light of continued cuts, Malcolmson noted the size of Bell’s executive team has been reduced in recent years and executive salaries remain frozen.