Desperate TVA cuts a third of its staff

In what the union representing TVA employees called “La journée la plus noire de notre histoire” (the darkest day of our history), the company announced on Thursday afternoon (after a leak from La Presse forced an order to halt trading on its stock) that it is eliminating 547 jobs, representing 31% of TVA Group’s current workforce.

Most of those jobs — 300 — will be in in-house productions through its TVA Productions subsidiary. Though most drama, variety and bid-budget primetime shows are already produced by independent companies, there are a few still done in-house, and three of them — game shows Le Tricheur and La Poule aux oeufs d’or plus trending-video magazine show VLOG — are being outsourced.

This leaves news and news-adjacent programming as the only stuff still done in-house. Newscasts, LCN, morning news/talk show Salut Bonjour, and some programs at TVA Sports.

The expectation is that many of the people working on producing these shows will be hired by the independent companies they will be outsourced to, and TVA “will begin discussions with its partners to encourage them to hire employees affected by the announced measures, according to their needs.”

But that doesn’t mean they’ll get the salary or benefits they did at TVA, and it probably means no longer being unionized.

What’s changing

So here’s a quick list of what has been announced:

  • Ending in-house productions of three shows, which will be outsourced to independent production companies
  • Physically centralizing media outlets: Montreal-based media outlets including TVA Sports and TVA Publications will move to the Journal de Montréal building at 4545 Frontenac (after it’s renovated to accommodate them), while Quebec City-based media outlets move to the TVA building next to the Videotron Centre. Quebecor says TVA will maintain a separate newsroom management to satisfy CRTC conditions of licence, but it’s a real stretch to suggest that TVA is independently managed right now, much less would it continue to be under this scenario. Similarly, divisions like Quebecor Content and Quebecor Out-of-Home will move into Quebecor’s headquarters on Saint-Jacques St.
  • Selling off real estate: Once TVA moves out of it, Quebecor will consider what to do with the headquarters at 1600 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E. in Montreal, as well as the buildings of regional TVA stations. (They previously announced plans to sell the Journal de Québec building.) The press release talks about maybe turning them into social housing if the municipal and provincial government are on board, but that’s speculation (and turning office buildings into housing isn’t as easy as it might seem — converting production studios would probably be even harder).
  • Centralizing newscasts: TVA local newscasts in Saguenay, Rimouski, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières will be produced and anchored out of Quebec City, requiring they be pre-recorded. (Noovo does something similar for its regional stations.) TVA promises the newscasts will maintain their “own editorial decisions” and “produce their own content” but with only a handful of staff they won’t have the resources to really do so in practice. (TVA stations in Gaspésie, Rivière-du-Loup, Gatineau and Abitibi are privately-owned affiliates and so are not affected directly by this announcement.)
  • Layoffs: Besides the 300 in-house production staff, another 98 at TVA local stations and 149 in other departments will be let go. TVA promises “a minimum of 16 weeks notice, from today, of the layoff,” which means employees will be paid until the end of February. Quebecor notes these layoffs are in addition to 140 “professional and managerial positions” it eliminated in February.

Quebecor stresses that these cuts are a last resort, coming after earlier rounds of cost-cutting that did things like eliminate the famous TVA helicopter and shut down MAtv in Montreal.

Local media are reporting on cuts in the regions — about 50 jobs eliminated in Sherbrooke, all but six let go in Saguenay, four reporters and two cameramen left in Trois-Rivières, about 20 cut in Rimouski/Côte-Nord

The causes

Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau, who is also the interim president of Groupe TVA, places most of the blame for this on the federal government and the CRTC, who ignored his repeated calls to “ease burdensome and costly administrative and regulatory requirements,” stop Radio-Canada from accepting advertising, and level the playing field with foreign giants like Netflix.

The truth is things are not great for conventional television these days, as Quebecor demonstrates with charts. The drop in advertising revenue accelerated with the pandemic, and more businesses are turning to digital platforms (Google and Meta in particular).

TVA is particularly vulnerable because it’s heavy on the conventional TV side, and its subscription specialty channels aren’t as popular as competitor Bell. TV advertising represents about $200 million a year in revenue for TVA, and it’s dropping fast. Its latest quarterly report, announced at the same time, has it losing $13 million in the broadcasting sector in the past nine months.

Péladeau has been warning that cuts like these would be necessary for a while, but I don’t think anyone expected them to be so drastic. He blames Google, Meta, Netflix, Radio-Canada, the federal government and a bunch of others. Some of those criticisms are justified, others feel a bit like scapegoating. But TVA isn’t alone in this struggle.

Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act, was supposed to make big tech pay more. But it’ll be years before the CRTC finishes putting regulations in place, and probably a while after that before the playing field really feels level (assuming it ever will). Quebecor clearly feels it can’t wait that long.

The reaction

The union wasted no time in complaining that it received no advance notice of the layoff decision, and is arguing that the plan goes against its collective agreements. It said it’s learning of some of the specifics of the layoffs as employees themselves announce what’s happening to them on social media.

But the union also says there needs to be an “examination of conscience” in society at large about the future of broadcasting.

Quebec politicians lined up to express their shock and sadness at the cuts, but the province’s culture minister said no to any emergency help to keep those jobs. Instead, Mathieu Lacombe suggested a more global re-imagining of subsidies, without giving any specifics. Such changes would take time to materialize.

Little reaction on the federal government side so far. While they have an idea what they want to see happen (big tech paying more, more high-paid journalism and cultural production jobs in Canada), they don’t really have a good idea of how to get there.

1 thoughts on “Desperate TVA cuts a third of its staff

  1. Anonymous

    Sigh. Another story of big media not understanding why they can no longer act like a monopoly / duopoly player. Their reaction isn’t internal, their reaction is to blame everyone else they can see.

    Blaming Google and Meta is misleading. It isn’t their fault. Consumers have changed their ways of being entertained, thanks to the Internet that companies like Quebecor make a boat load selling access to. They spent more than a decade trying to stymie it, bury it will silly bandwidth limitations and usage caps, but in the end, the internet proved to be worth more than they could have ever expected. In fact, Videotron now makes more income from internet service than they do from cable distribution or any other single part of their business. It continues to grow, and their margins on it are pretty substantial.

    TVA is certainly facing a tough fight. They are going through the same process as newspapers and more recently radio stations: Discovering that they are no longer the only game in town, or perhaps one of a very few pigs eating from a deep trough refilled every month without fail. Suddenly less and less food is being dumped in there, and there are many more snouts in there looking for a meal.

    They are also facing something that a lot of Canadian media are facing, which is that it is difficult (if not near impossible) to put a fence around the internet and force Canadian content and Canadian ownership on it. Bill C-11 is an incredibly desperate act by a government (and by extension the CRTC) to try to control something that has no intention of being controlled. It is an attempt to artificially prop up failing media companies who seem intent on not propping themselves up.

    Remember, full year 2022, Quebecor made nearly 2 billion EBITDA. Bell made about 3 billion. Rogers nearly 5 billion. Don’t cry for them, they are each making an absolute crapton of cash. TVA’s loss on broadcasting is essentially a rounding error on the overall Quebecor balance sheet.

    Just like newspapers and radio, Quebecor / TVA are trying to shrink to profitability. Steve, as you well know, the newspaper industry is a leader in this field, having cut meat, bone, and probably have sold off all the marrow too trying to shrink fast enough to somehow be profitable. All the while, they product suffers, readership dwindles, wash, rinse, repeat. Radio is going down that road too, making stations more and more generic, cutting on air staff, using more automation, and generally doing all sorts of things to shrink to the point where they make money. But they mostly fail, because they keep damaging the product along the way. More and more people move to other forms of musical entertainment – they have options that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

    In the end, Quebecor, Bell, and Rogers each need to accept that 10 years from now, they are going to be mostly an internet service pure play. They have laid waste to the radio and TV markets, screwed up cable, and continue to alienate their customer base at every turn.


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