The tearful goodbyes were apparently premature…
When Canwest announced in February that it was putting its five “E!” network conventional television stations under “strategic review” – considered code for “sell them off or shut them down” – staff at one of those stations decided to take matters into their own hands.
Employees and fans of CHCH in Hamilton, Ont., began a campaign to save the station, and one of the ideas floating around was to have the employees and community pitch in to buy the station from Canwest and run it themselves.
Turns out that wasn’t necessary. In June, a broadcaster most had never heard of called Channel Zero announced it was going to buy CHCH and CJNT in Montreal. It also promised that all the jobs would be kept and the station would increase its focus on local news. That sale got CRTC approval and became final just before the Aug. 31 deadline set by Canwest (based on the end dates of licenses for the stations).
More recently, when CHEK-TV in Victoria found out it wasn’t going to be saved and would be closed down along with CHCA in Red Deer, Alta., staff there began a similar campaign. It actually got to the stage of submitting a $2.5 million bid to Canwest to buy the station, just a week before it was to be shut down. The money would come from staff and local investors who were committed to having a local voice on Vancouver Island.
The deal was rejected by Canwest as being insufficient. The sale price of the station wasn’t the issue, they said, but investors would need to have enough money (about twice the amount offered) to cover early losses, which would be substantial because the station had no advertising sold after Aug. 31.
Over that last weekend of August, it looked like CHEK was gone for good. CHCA shut down on Monday morning, and CHEK was scheduled to go out after some special programming remembering the 53-year history of the station.
(The fifth E! station, CHBC Kelowna, was brought into the Global television network, an option not available to either CHEK or CHCA because of license restrictions that prevented them from carrying the same programming as Global stations in Vancouver and Calgary, respectively. It will operate as Global Okanagan, and with 11 fewer employees.)
But CHEK’s employees weren’t done. They submitted a revised bid, and Canwest agreed to keep the station on life support for an extra day. And another. And a few more.
The news officially came just after the close of business on Friday, in the form of an internal memo to employees and a press release: Canwest had agreed to sell CHEK-TV to a group of local investors, led by the station’s employees.
- Canadian Press
- CBC British Columbia
- Canwest News Service (also on CHEK’s own website)
- Globe and Mail
- Victoria Times-Colonist
- Georgia Straight
- Victoria News
The actual price was nominal (the Globe and Mail has it at $2), but the important part is that the station’s new owners would pay for any losses suffered while the station was awaiting CRTC approval of the sale.
That approval should come quickly, if the Channel Zero case is any indication. The move is a win-win-win. It makes Canwest look good (or at least less bad) compared to what would happen if they shut the station down (in all, Canwest says it saved 90% of the almost 300 employees at the five stations). It saves the jobs of CHEK’s 45 employees (they’re really happy about that part), and it keeps a local television station in Victoria (CTV’s CIVI-TV, part of the A network, is the only other station indigenous to Vancouver Island).
But the tough part of this story is just beginning.
People buy money-losing TV stations with optimistic business plans only to see them go down the drain. And employees often think they can do a better job running a company if they just got those know-nothing managers out of the way.
The investors behind the CHEK bid say they have a solid business plan. Now we’ll see if they can make it work. If they do, we could see lots of other small-market money-losing stations across the country try the same thing (or we’d see Canwest and CTV buy them back and change all of their stations to fit that working business model). If they don’t, it’ll make others think twice before trying a similar move.
I hope CHEK succeeds. I don’t think the odds are in its favour, but I applaud them for trying.
Good luck CHEK. You’ll need it.