LCN was the first with the news: Global TV is laying off 200 employees across Canada, and shutting down its Quebec City and Sherbrooke bureaus.
Quebec City, which had a skeleton staff in a small building, was mostly a news-gathering operation. There were no studios there and the only original program was a half-hour-a-week repackaging of news reports called “QC Magazine” (it’s unclear if that show will continue to be produced). The only people left will be a reporter at the National Assembly and a few others covering the local beat.
Sherbrooke, meanwhile, was already vacant. The bureau there consisted of a reporter and cameraman and hasn’t been producing anything in months (the reporter was reassigned and the cameraman quit after a leave of absence).
It’s not just here. The Maritimes, where 41 jobs were cut (11 in Saint John, 30 in Halifax), cancelled yesterday’s 11pm newscast.
In all, about half of the job cuts come east of Montreal.
CanWest, which issued this BS-laden press release about how it’ll consolidate news gathering in a multimillion-dollar broadcast centre, laughingly called it a “progressive approach to local news production” and mentions HDTV as a positive result of this decision. (Someone want to explain to me how local news staff impedes the introduction of HDTV?) Then they get into how this is going to work:
News staff in each market will continue to generate local content. All
content will be delivered to a Broadcast Centre and packaged into a program
format for air. Local anchors will continue to deliver the news from their
In other words, newscast will involve local anchors in front of green screens. Footage of them in front of their “virtual sets” will be beamed to Toronto along with reporters’ news packages. People in Toronto will actually produce the newscasts, and then beam them back to local broadcasting transmitters.
This idea is hardly new. CBC TV and radio use similar techniques (sending their signal to Toronto and then having them send it back to their transmitters), though their production facilities are still local. And recently, CBC decided to reverse a decision years ago to cut local evening newscasts from an hour to a half-hour. That decision killed Montreal’s CBC Newswatch newscast as a major force in Montreal, handing the market over to CFCF. The decision to re-invest in local news helped the newscast slightly, but it’s still way behind.
The new Global broadcast centres, where 50 employees will be reassigned (in addition ot the 200 laid off), will be located in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. (Doesn’t that sound a bit skewed westward to you?). Funny how most of the cuts are in the East while all of the new jobs are in the West.
In a memo sent to CanWest employees (which newspapers like The National Post got hold of somehow), management explains the real reason behind the cuts:
“Stations in the two regions are underperforming financially, according to the memo.”
In case it wasn’t obvious from their prime-time schedule and E! network, Global believes in profit, not local TV production. The layoffs will save the company up to $10 million a year. But don’t expect the savings to go to regional news-gathering. Instead, they’ll use it to acquire more cable channels that do little but rebroadcast American TV shows.
Naturally, some people are pissed about the news, and feel it will erode local news coverage. (CanWest makes it seem as if it’s just production and not journalism that will be affected, but editorial cuts in Quebec City and Sherbrooke tell a different story.)
That’s what’s so funny. The reason Global is doing so badly monetarily is because they don’t have viewers for their newscasts. They don’t have viewers because they put on crappy newscasts. These cuts will make the quality deteriorate even further and drive even more people to competing regional news from CBC and CTV. Global is shooting itself in the foot in its rush to the bottom. But they don’t care. Their profits lie in rebroadcasting American content. If they could get away with having no original production whatsoever, they would do it in a heartbeat.
CRTC must step in
Here’s what the license says about their investment obligations:
With respect to specific tangible benefits, the Commission notes the applicant’s commitment to expend over a projected seven-year period, $9.64 million on additional programming to be acquired from third-party producers and program developers. This total will include $3.16 million to be spent on new Canadian entertainment programming for national distribution and $180,000 to be expended in new programming development investment. The licensee also proposes to expend $2.1 million to license and broadcast during the evening broadcast period on CKMI-TV, and on the entire CanWest Global system in circumstances that ensure national exposure, six one-hour special events programs produced by Quebec independent producers, during each year of the licence term. It also notes TVA-CW’s commitment to acquire and broadcast during the evening broadcast period on CKMI-TV, a minimum of eight music and variety specials produced by Quebec independent producers, during each year of the licence term, at a projected cost of $2.8 million over seven years.
When was the last time you remember seeing Quebec-based special-events programming on Global? They barely even cover provincial elections.
The applicant further committed to co-license with CanWest, in each year of the licence term, a “Movie of the Week“, produced by a Quebec independent producer, to be broadcast in French on the TVA network, and in English on the entire CanWest Global system, including CKMI-TV. The Commission notes the applicant’s commitment to expend $1.4 million in this regard over a seven-year period.
The main issue is original regional programming (because Global Quebec is a regional network, it does not have to produce local programming and can offer no local advertising). They are required to provide 18 hours of original local programming a week, including news. This is largely filled with This Morning Live, the morning talk show of fluff produced out of Montreal, that runs three hours a day or 15 hours a week. The half-hour weekday evening newscast gives another 2.5 hours a week, and QC Magazine fills out the remaining half-hour.
In other words, Global Quebec already provides the absolute bare-minimum of local programming.
CanWest isn’t stupid (OK, they’re stupid, but they’re not THAT stupid). They’ll abide by the letter of their broadcasting license and keep the minimums they’re required to have. But in terms of the spirit of local news production, they’re clearly running a scam.
The solution is simple: The CRTC should review Global TV’s licenses in Quebec and the Maritimes, and consider suspending them in places like Sherbrooke where they have given up on covering local issues.
Elsewhere in the blogosphere:
- Change is in the airwaves (Ty’s Blog)
- Inside the CBC
- Wherein Our Hero Starts Giving the Business to the Business (Dead Things ON Sticks)
- The Spade
- Halifax Daily News (discussion)
UPDATE (Oct. 8): The Globe has a follow-up story tying this to the overall decline of local TV news, and how national networks drowning in profits from simulcasting U.S. programming and taking advantage of CRTC rules are complaining that their bare-bones requirements for locally-produced programming are too much to bear.