‘No longer a viable business’: Bell Media sells 45 radio stations amid layoffs

TORONTO-

BCE Inc. is selling 45 of its 103 regional radio stations while cutting nine percent of its workforce, including journalists and other workers at its subsidiary Bell Media.

The affected stations are in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

The company announced Thursday in an open letter signed by CEO Mirko Bibic that 4,800 jobs would be cut “at all levels of the company.”

Some employees were already notified or were due to be informed Thursday of their layoffs, while the rest will be informed in the spring. Bibic said the company will use vacancies and attrition to minimize layoffs as much as possible.

It is the second major layoff at the media and telecommunications giant since last spring, when six percent of Bell Media jobs were eliminated and nine radio stations were closed or sold.

In a separate internal memo, Bell Media President Sean Cohan said the company intends to sell 45 radio stations to seven buyers: Vista Radio, Whiteoaks, Durham Radio, My Broadcasting Corp., ZoomerMedia, Arsenal Media and Maritime Broadcasting. Sales are subject to CRTC approval and other closing conditions.

“That is a significant disinvestment. It’s because it’s no longer a viable business,” said Robert Malcolmson, Bell’s chief legal and regulatory officer, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“We will continue to operate those that are viable, but this is a business that is going in the wrong direction.”

The company declined to say how many of the total job cuts occurred specifically at Bell Media.

Malcolmson said Bell Media is in the midst of a “digital transformation” for both entertainment and news.

But whether prioritizing digital growth is viable for the company in terms of generating profits is yet to be determined.

“We are investing in it; “We’ll see,” Malcolmson said. “Without some kind of regulatory support, it’s difficult.”

He blamed the federal government for taking too long to provide aid to media companies, as well as the CRTC for being too slow to react to an “immediate crisis.”

This extends to two pieces of legislation aimed at helping Canada’s beleaguered media sector: Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, aimed at forcing tech giants to compensate media outlets. Canadian news for its content, and Bill C-11, which updates the Broadcasting Act requires digital platforms such as Netflix, YouTube and TikTok to contribute and promote Canadian content.

Ottawa remains in a standoff with Facebook parent company Meta over C-18, and the company continues to block news links on its platforms. Meanwhile, the federal government capped the amount of money broadcasters can get from Google’s $100 million annual payments to $30 million, with the rest going to print and digital media.

“In practice, it will be of no use. “It is, to say the least, disappointing,” Malcolmson said.

“We have been advocating for reform for years. “It doesn’t come fast enough, and when it does, it doesn’t provide meaningful help.”

Thursday’s job losses at Bell Media are also directly related to the regulator’s direction on Bill C-11, Malcolmson said.

The CRTC held a hearing late last year to explore whether streaming services should be asked to make an upfront contribution to the Canadian content system to help level the playing field with local companies. The commission hopes to implement new rules by the end of 2024.

But the Bell executive said the company needs immediate relief, which could come from a fund it has proposed that would allow streamers to subsidize local or national news.

“We hope they do, but we can’t wait two years for that to happen, so we see actions like this today,” he said.

Bell has fought other regulatory decisions over the past year that it says make things difficult for its struggling broadcast division.

That includes an October petition to the Federal Court of Appeals seeking to overturn a CRTC decision that renewed its broadcast licenses for three more years. It argued that the decision was made without a public hearing and could result in the regulator prejudging its requests last June to waive Canadian programming and local news requirements for its television stations.

Bell Media’s advertising revenue decreased by $140 million in 2023 compared to the previous year, and the company’s news division is experiencing more than $40 million in annual operating losses, Bibic said in his letter.

On Thursday, Bell said it could also further reduce network investments in its telecommunications sector as it remains at odds with the CRTC over what it calls a “default” regulatory direction.

When asked about the company’s image in light of the continued cuts, Malcolmson noted that the size of Bell’s executive team has been reduced in recent years and executive salaries remain frozen.

“We have a duty to both our shareholders and our employees to ensure that we manage the business rationally,” he said.

List of Bell Media radio stations sold (new owner)

CHOR, Summerland, BC (Vista Radio)

CJAT, Trail, BC (Vista Radio)

CKKC, Nelson, BC (Vista Radio)

CKGR, Golden, BC (Vista Radio)

CKXR, Salmon Arm, BC (Vista Radio)

CKCR, Revelstoke, BC (Vista Radio)

CJMG, Penticton, BC (Vista Radio)

CKOR, Penticton, BC (Vista Radio)

CJOR, Osoyoos, BC (Vista Radio)

CICF, Vernon, BC (Vista Radio)

CHSU, Kelowna, BC (Vista Radio)

CILK, Kelowna, BC (Vista Radio)

CKFR, Kelowna, BC (Vista Radio)

CKNL, Fort St. John, BC (Vista Radio)

CHRX, Fort St. John, BC (Vista Radio)

CJDC, Dawson Creek, British Columbia (Vista Radio)

CKRX, Fort Nelson, BC (Vista Radio)

CFTK, Terraza, BC (Vista Radio)

CJFW, Terrace, BC (Vista Radio)

CHTK, Prince Rupert, BC (Vista Radio)

CKTK, Kitimat, BC (Vista Radio)

CKLH, Hamilton, Ont. (white oaks)

CHRE, St. Catharines, Ont. (white oaks)

CHTZ, St. Catharines, Ont. (white oaks)

CKTB, St. Catharines, Ont. (white oaks)

CKLY, Lindsay, Ont. (Durham Radio)

CKPT, Peterborough, Ont. (Durham Radio)

CKQM, Peterborough, Ont. (Durham Radio)

CFJR, Brockville, Ont. (My Broadcasting Corporation)

CJPT, Brockville, Ont. (My Broadcasting Corporation)

CFLY, Kingston, Ont. (My Broadcasting Corporation)

CKLC, Kingston, Ont. (My Broadcasting Corporation)

CJOS, Owen Sound, Ont. (ZoomMedia)

CHRD, Drummondville, Que. (Arsenal media)

CJDM, Drummondville, Que. (Arsenal media)

CFEI, St-Hyacinthe, Que. (Arsenal media)

CFZZ, St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, which. (Arsenal media)

CIKI, Rimouski, Que. (Arsenal media)

CJOI, Rimouski, Que. (Arsenal media)

CFVM, Amqui, Que. (Arsenal media)

CIKX, Grand Falls, NB (Marine Transmission)

CJCJ, Woodstock, NB (Maritime Broadcasting)

CKBC, Bathurst, NB (Marine Broadcasting)

CKTO, Truro, NS (Marine Broadcasting)

CKTY, Truro, NS (Marine Transmission)


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2024.

CTV News is a division of Bell Media, which is part of BCE Inc.

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