Bell Media asks CRTC to eliminate all local news requirements for CTV, CTV2 and Noovo stations

Saying it can’t wait until the coming review of television policy and group licence renewals completes its long process, Bell Media has filed applications with the CRTC to eliminate all regulatory requirements for local news at all of its CTV, CTV2 and Noovo stations across the country.

“Over the last decade, the operating environment for traditional, private Canadian broadcasters has changed dramatically,” Bell writes in its application. “Whereas in the past, Canadians looked to domestic services for information and entertainment, they can now access a virtually unlimited array of DMBUs such as Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple+, most of which are foreign owned and controlled.”

Specifically, Bell is asking to eliminate the following conditions of licence:

  • A requirement for English-language stations in large markets to broadcast 14 hours of local programming per week
  • A requirement for French-language stations to broadcast local programming each week (5 hours in Montreal and Quebec, 2.5 hours at other stations)
  • Requirements for locally reflective news in English each week (6 hours in large markets, 3 hours in small markets, and special lower quotas for smaller or regional stations)
  • A requirement for 5 hours of locally reflective news each week on Noovo’s Montreal station
  • A requirement for Bell (as a group) to spend 11% of CTV/CTV2’s gross revenues on locally reflective news and 5% of Noovo’s gross revenues

If the CRTC grants all these requests, the only condition of licence related to local programming that would remain is a general requirement that stations outside metropolitan markets must broadcast seven hours of local programming per week (other smaller stations have exceptions for either less local programming or allowing them to group that requirement with nearby stations). This content would have to be local, but not necessarily news.

This isn’t to say that Bell would immediately cancel all local news if the application is approved. It says it won’t, anyway:

“Bell Media’s local television stations have always been committed to ensuring the coverage of (local) stories and if our Application is approved, we will continue to do so. Having the flexibility on how to achieve those goals rather than Commission mandated rules will allow us to provide a better news service to the local communities that we serve. As such, we believe the (conditions of licence) listed above are unnecessary in light the current economic environment in which we must operate and the flexibility accorded CBC/Radio-Canada.”

But Bell doesn’t explain how it would make use of this additional “flexibility” and why it needs it if it plans to continue providing local news. The fact that they’re using a lot of economic language to justify the application would seem to make it pretty clear they want to make cuts to save money.

It also uses some verbiage to suggest that these quotas actually somehow hurt local stations:

“In addition, such COLs have the unintended consequence of forcing our stations to make editorial choices that prevent them from providing our viewers with the most relevant news possible at all times. Events that occur outside a local market, whether nationally or internationally, may still be of importance to our viewers in those markets,” it writes. “For example, relevant news from a neighbouring community could be excluded from a newscast in order to ensure that we remain compliant with our obligation to provide a set number of hours of locally reflective news.”

No examples of this are given, and from experience I haven’t seen much of a problem including non-local stories in local newscasts.

Reducing CanCon quotas

Bell has filed a separate application with the CRTC to change its conditions of licence relating to spending on Canadian programming and so-called programs of national interest (scripted dramas, comedies, documentaries and award shows).

Specifically, Bell is seeking to reduce:

  • Overall Canadian programming expenditures to 20 per cent of revenues from 30 per cent
  • Programs of National Interest spending to 5% of revenues from 7.5%
  • Expanding PNI categories to include music programs, music videos, variety and game shows and reality TV (Rogers is making a similar request for Citytv)

By my calculations, the change to the first requirement would mean Bell could save more than $60 million a year it spends on English-language Canadian content, and more than $15 million a year (as part of that Canadian spending) it devotes to scripted programming, documentaries and awards shows specifically.

Bell’s rationale

Besides a long essay on the declining state of traditional television in Canada, Bell cites the latest renewal of CBC’s licences, which controversially eliminated local programming and news quotas. That renewal has been sent back to the CRTC for reconsideration, in part because of objections over those eliminations. And the CRTC explicitly stated in its decision that it didn’t worry about the CBC abandoning news because of its public service mandate.

Bell also cites an application from Quebecor’s TVA to eliminate weekend local news requirements at its Quebec City station. That application is currently before the CRTC, along with a complaint by the union that TVA went ahead with cutting the weekend newscasts without CRTC approval. (Quebecor has since backtracked and will continue weekend newscasts until a decision is reached.)

“The stark reality is that local television has been unprofitable since 2012 with PBIT (profit before interest and taxes) declining to -18.6% in 2020, -12.4% in 2021 and dropping even further to -17.7% in 2022,” Bell writes. “Seventy per cent of private local television stations and 40% of private radio stations entered 2020 with a negative PBIT. For Bell Media, 90% of our television stations had a negative PBIT in 2018 and while this ‘improved’ to only 84% having a negative PBIT in 2019, 94% of our stations had a negative PBIT in 2020. As of 2022, our local television stations have reported an aggregate loss of $583.7M since 2012.”

How Bell calculates profit and losses for local television stations specifically is a good question considering how much of the company is centralized now, but it goes on with more stark numbers:

“Bell Media has been losing tens of millions alone in the production and delivery of local news.  In the four-year period between 2016 and 2019, the average annual news operating loss was $28.4M. In 2020 and 2021, due to advertising revenue declines attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, this jumped to an average operating loss of $51.2M. In 2022, despite advertising revenue recoveries, the operating loss was approximately $40M. Moreover, web giants have had a drastic impact on the advertising market in Canada, capturing a massive share of advertising revenue from Canadian businesses that rely on that revenue to make news. The Internet now has a 68% share of the advertising market in Canada. Without a doubt, delivering local news is a very costly undertaking, and as described above, this has negatively impacted the health of our local television stations.”

The group licences for Bell Media’s TV stations were last renewed in 2017 and supposed to expire (and therefore be reviewed and renewed by) last fall, but the CRTC has administratively extended them to August 2024. Bell says it expects further extensions since the CRTC is implementing Bill C-11 and will probably review TV licences after that process is complete.

Bell Media’s applications are posted on the CRTC website under Part 1 applications (the local news one is listed under CFTO Toronto, and the Canadian programming expenditures one under CJOH Ottawa), and are accepting public comment until 8pm ET July 24. You can file comments using these forms: local news application, Canadian programming application. Note that any information provided in those comments becomes public record, including contact information.

Unifor will fight request

Unifor, the union representing many CTV employees, issued a statement Friday evening saying it would “do everything in our power to ensure that Bell Media continues to live up to its legislated obligations to fund and create local news and programming.”

Pointing out that Bills C-11 and C-18 were just passed, it says “Bell Media’s application to the CRTC is premature, and a slight to the many organizations and individuals who have worked hard to build a viable path forward local news and programming in Canada.”

Bell responds

Bell parent company BCE Inc. responded to this news by way of a statement provided to CTV News, which CTV tacked on to the bottom of a Canadian Press story about the applications:

Bell Media is the leading provider of local news in Canada, but to sustain news operations into the future, public policy changes are desperately needed now. Even though we are Canada’s news leader, Bell Media’s news operations lost $40 million in revenue last year. Without changing how we operate to align with today’s shifting consumer demands, these operating losses will only grow. Now is the time for the CRTC to make reasonable regulatory improvements that will provide more flexibility in how Bell Media and other broadcasters deliver local news in major and smaller markets.

28 thoughts on “Bell Media asks CRTC to eliminate all local news requirements for CTV, CTV2 and Noovo stations

  1. Rob Braide

    It boggles the mind that bell media would abandon the social contract that accompanies a broadcast licence and walk away from local news on stations like CTV Montreal. Think of the ripple effect on news talk radio stations like CJAD and CFRB who recently lost most or all of their news rooms and reporting staffs because Bell Media felt running two news operations in the same town was un-needed duplication. If this was allowed there would be no news on CJAD…

  2. Al

    If the Bell Media bottom line is so damaged by local news requirements, I have a suggestion for the company. Get out of the broadcasting business and stick to telephones. Let true broadcasters, like the ones you bought up, take up the slack and provide truly LOCAL content as required by the outlets’ license terms. I fail to understand Bells’ dilemma when what is supposed to be a “local” news presentation is laden with fluff pieces from markets clear across the country. Note to Bell Media..viewers in Montreal really don’t care much about what’s happening to elephants at the Calgary zoo.

  3. Sidney Margles

    Maybe it is time to go back to the time when local stations were independent but grouped together in informal groups which worked together as necessary to further their local success.

  4. J

    Fuck Bell. Fuck them in every way. It’s well past time for conglomerates that only care about profit and not their employees, viewers or communities to get the fuck out of the Canadian media industry. These snakes took over $100 mil in covid subsidies only to turn around and lay off dozens of people. It would be nice to see the CRTC do their job for once on this instead of always bending to the whims of rich owners.

  5. Dilbert

    Gary Dennis hits it exactly.

    Let’s look at CTV Montreal as an example. If you eliminate the news requirement then why would you have a studio? If you don’t need the studio, then you don’t need the news room, the staff, the support staff… and so on. Clean it all up, and what you have left (if I count correctly would be 1 or 2 local sales people, and whoever maintains the transmitter.

    Then Bell can replaced local content with a channel entirely run from Toronto, with no local hosts or content. Get rid of everything except the vestigial transmitter. They only keep that to keep the simsub stuff in line, and that is being dealt with slowly as well.

    Bell has put the cards on the table to end local TV broadcasting. Radio is next – why have local hosts when all you need is 1 person pushing in traffic and weather, CHOM would be fine replaced by a national rock station with local inserts for traffic.

  6. Anonymous

    Finally, the CRTC’s policies have barred its rotten fruit.

    1 – Let’s allow the government to give them (CRTC) power to socially engineer what Canadians should or shouldn’t have access to.
    2 – Concentrate the media landscape to a few players (no competition). That way it’s easier to manage them.
    3 – Satisfy the political class, and the special interest groups that they themselves support through their legislation.
    4 – Then have the media players complain that the public is going to other sources for news, and other sources of entertainment.
    5 – Have the media players blackmail the public for government handouts. It seems they can’t survive.
    6 – Give the CRTC more powers to even control the internet. Thus, further control what the public sees, hears, and reads.

    And voila. What better way to control what news the public gets, by having no news at all. Or at the very least what we do manage to get as news we can label as, Presstitution (the Press + Prostitution).

    So, no surprise from what I see Bell Media doing. All part of the greater plan to have a population be ignorant of what is going on in their own local communities, province, and finally their country, and beyond.

    Ignorance is good, curiosity is hate.

    I suggest, the CRTC gets put on a very short leash. A media concentration break up is forced.
    And even further, the public will need to stop voting in people who think they can socially engineer the country.


    I’m still not clear on what this means to the hours of live programing. Right now CTV in London has 1 hour at 6pm and 30 minutes at 11pm. If Bell gets what it wants will the 11pm and weekend news be gone and will the 6pm news be reduced to 30 minutes. In Montreal will the noon and 5pm news be cut.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      If Bell gets what it wants will the 11pm and weekend news be gone and will the 6pm news be reduced to 30 minutes.

      That will be up to Bell Media’s choice.

    2. Al

      John..I fail to see the real need for the news at 5. No slam against Maya Johnson, she’s good and will get better if given the opportunity. Rather the 6 PM cast is a re-roll of what went at 5. The only advantage the extra hour might bring is to those who are unable to see the other cast.

      My issue with news/traffic people in general (save for a few exceptions) is that many of the current crop can’t speak English properly. That seems to be a malaise running rampant throughout the industry. Pity there are no higher-ups left to coach the crews, or maybe they just don’t care.

      1. Anonymous

        5PM news is called “it’s nearly free” news. The up front costs to collect the stuff, to produce the pieces. etc… it’s all sunk costs, done already. Re-running it twice isn’t costing anywhere near as much as producing two separate hours.

        Local news is better than whatever the current Ellen-alike is out there.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Can someone explain what is Bell’s end game here?

      Having the most revenue for the least expenditures. It’s not complicated, it’s a publicly-traded company whose shareholders want money.

      1. dee

        Maximizing shareholder value is how most publicly-traded companies operate; sure you can beat the analysts’ quarterly earning numbers by cutting and cutting but that will carry only so far; smart investors want to see sales and revenue growth.
        Ok, why does Bell think a Montreal or Calgary audience is interested, much less cares, about Toronto news? Do they think listeners are that desperate for a voice in the car or house?

      2. George

        But if the status quo is resulting in big losses over several years, what would anyone expect them to do? The CRTC has no has no claws to go after the American giants.

    2. Rob Braide

      Bell Media’s end game here is probably to reduce its footprint in the content business. It’s happening with telcos all over North America. They started when Randy Lennox’s 5 year contract was not re-newed. He was brought over from a starlike run at Universal Music Canada and he built one of the most impressive C-suites in the the content creation business worldwide. When Mirko Bibic became CEO of BCE, the direction of the corporation changed and the focus shifted to distribution. Phones and internet…Randy and his whole crew were shown the door and massive layoffs happened in the radio and tv divisons. This latest move is a line extension of that orientation, I’m pretty sure. No one makes money on a news operation. But they do make lots of money on the content that surrounds the news operation. BCE is very profitable. No one missed bonus this year. A news operation is part of the social contract that having a broadcasting licence is all about. They can’t sell it, there is no existing broadcaster who can buy Bell Media given ownership maximums. Until foreign investment is allowed it would take a Canadian hedge fund or a pension fund to come up with the kind of money needed. And it’s a risky contrarian business.

      1. Anonymous

        The real answer ends up being forced divesting, breaking up the major holders and making them into separate public companies. Bell could spin off “all radio” and then “all broadcast TV” and so on down the line into separate public entities, and then pay off the original bell shareholders from whatever the proceeds are.

        Canadian broadcasting needs to have the local market stations (radio and TV) turned back into local stations. Know your market, serve your market, and compete with everyone else in your market. Local TV could be part of a network ( like CTV) but the network should only decide a few hours a day of programming, not the full day.

        Radio is the same thing. Local voices, local contact, local involvement, and yes, local sales.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          Not many people are going to want to buy a standalone CTV network if, in addition to buying a network that loses millions every year, it also has to invest in recreating centralized overhead to serve those stations. Either it would go bankrupt outright or result in even more severe cuts, even with the most generous of benefactors.

          1. Anonymous

            Your assumption here is that the millions in losses are direct attributable to operating the CTV network. That is not the case.

            What BCE has done is a form of financial trickery. Almost every business they have is apparently losing money, yet BCE is immensely profitable. If all of these businesses were actually losing money, they would get rid of them as quickly as possible. No sane company would sign up to lose millions / billions just for the heck of it.

            “For full-year 2022, net earnings increased 1.2% to $2,926 million and net earnings attributable to common shareholders were $2,716 million, or $2.98 per share, up 0.3% and down 0.3% respectively. Adjusted net earnings declined 5.5% in Q4 to $654 million, resulting in a 6.6% decrease in adjusted EPS to $0.71”

            On the back of this, BCE eliminated another 1300 jobs, closed radio stations, and tightened the belt on content creation at all levels… but they made three billion dollars in 2022.

            Something isn’t adding up.

            1. Fagstein Post author

              Almost every business they have is apparently losing money, yet BCE is immensely profitable.

              This is not true. Bell Canada’s telecom operations, which are 90% of their revenues, definitely make money. Bell Media is also profitable, through its other assets like TSN and its radio stations. But CTV is not profitable on its own, nor are other private conventional television networks.

    3. Anonymous

      The end game is simple: local anything costs money. Local stations exist only to preserve SimSub regulations. Local news, local sports, local weather, local content of any sort is costly and requires too many people to make it profitable in their business models. Local content suggest local sales people, accountants, billing, collections, and so on. Anything local is a negative.

      Bell’s long term goal is to remove local stations entirely and replace it with a single CTV by Bell feed. All programming decisions made one and purchased in bulk. All sales, marketing, and the like from a single place, with as few actual people as possible. No internal productions, no studios, no cameras, no equipment. No local station offices, studios, or anything like that. Get rid of all of the expense.

      Repackage more American content, pay for less Canadian content, have it produced by the cheapest local bidder, and don’t do anything yourself. Entire CTV network and all the local stations could be run by about a dozen people and a few computers. Then Bell will be “profitable”.

  8. Lance Campeau

    Bell won’t stop the cuts until the entire country gets its news in a single feed, produced out of some underpaid intern’s TO condo.

    What a pathetic excuse for a media business.

    1. Al

      Lance..Therein lies the problem. Bell may call themselves a “media business. Problem is that they have no interest in nurturing their media properties. Those are seen only as irritants to the bottom line. Hence, the continual cuts to staff and services. The fact that the CRTC has not recognized this ploy is deserving of an inquiry so that the underserved public can clearly see what damage this is causing to their access to information (read: real news). One need only digest all of the fallout those cost cutting measures have caused. Lost employment (and taxes for governments), lost opportunities for the younger generations to develop a craft (mom & pop shops in minor markets are fed by a central mothership..why staff them?) , and a general deterioration of the broadcasting art. Hardly progressive, and definitely NOT a good example of a company’s responsibility to the public. If one believes that Bell is mis-serving Canadians, worse is the CRTC for allowing all of this crap to happen.

  9. Jon Pearkins

    TD just published a report stating that Corus also asked the CRTC for cuts in its Canadian programming last November. Bell is asking for a reduction from 30% to 20% of revenue. Corus 30% to 25%.

  10. ted duskes

    If I were a high profile, high-priced on-air personality in any of their media outlets, I would make sure that my RRSP contributions were maxed out, all vacation and sick days taken, my desk ready to be cleaned out, my speed dial for my lawyer updated, and all my options for Bell stock exercised.
    The hammer, when it will fall, will do so very quickly, without warning and certainly without mercy.
    They won’t see it coming, if Bells history of cuts is any indication.
    Merciless and heartless.


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