BCE Inc. cuts 4,800 jobs following sale of 45 regional radio stations

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BCE Inc. is selling 45 of its 103 regional radio stations and cutting 9 percent of its workforce, including journalists and other workers at its Bell Media subsidiary.

Affected stations are located in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

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

Some employees have already been warned or were to be informed on Thursday of their dismissal, while the results will be known by spring. Bibic said the company would use vacancies and natural attrition to minimize layoffs as much as possible.

2nd major layoff

This is the second major layoff at the media and telecommunications giant since last spring, when 6 percent of Bell Media’s jobs were cut and nine radio stations were closed or sold.

In a separate internal memo, Bell Media President Sean Cohan said the company intends to divest 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.

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

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

The company declined to say how much of the total job cuts related specifically to Bell Media.

“Digital transformation”

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

But it remains to be seen whether or not prioritizing digital growth is viable for the company in terms of generating profits.

“We’re investing in this; we’ll see,” Malcolmson said. “Without some form of regulatory support, it’s difficult.”

A man stands near a Halifax Chamber poster.  He wears a blazer with a shirt and a purple tie.
Mirko Bibic, pictured in October, says Bell Media’s advertising revenue is down $140 million in 2023 compared to the previous year. (CBC)

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

This extends to two pieces of legislation intended to help Canada’s struggling media sector: Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, intended to force tech giants to pay Canadian media for their content, and Bill C-11, which updates the Broadcasting Act to require digital platforms such as Netflix, YouTube and TikTok to contribute and promote Canadian content.

Ottawa remains at an impasse with Facebook parent company Meta over C-18, with the company continuing to block news links on its platforms. At the same time, the federal government capped the amount broadcast media can get from Google’s $100 million annual payments at $30 million, with the rest going to print and digital media.

“Disappointing, to say the least”

“In practice, it won’t do anything. It’s disappointing to say the least,” Malcolmson said.

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

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

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

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

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

News loses $40 million a year

Bell has fought other regulatory decisions over the past year that it says are making things more difficult for its struggling broadcasting division.

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

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

On Thursday, Bell said it may also further reduce its investments in telecommunications networks as it remains at odds with the CRTC over what it calls “predetermined” regulatory direction.

Asked about the company’s image in light of continued cuts, Malcolmson pointed out that the size of Bell’s management team had been reduced in recent years and executive salaries remained frozen.

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

Here is a list of Bell Media radio stations sold and their new owners:

  • CHOR, Summerland, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CJAT, Trail, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CKKC, Nelson, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CKGR, Golden, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CKXR, Salmon Arm, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CKCR, Revelstoke, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CJMG, Penticton, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CKOR, Penticton, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CJOR, Osoyoos, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CICF, Vernon, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CHSU, Kelowna, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CILK, Kelowna, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CKFR, Kelowna, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CKNL, Fort St. John, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CHRX, Fort St. John, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CJDC, Dawson Creek, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CKRX, Fort Nelson, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CFTK, Terrace, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CJFW, Terrace, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CHTK, Prince Rupert, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CKTK, Kitimat, British Columbia (Vista Radio).
  • CKLH, Hamilton, Ontario. (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, Ontario. (Durham Radio).
  • CKQM, Peterborough, Ont. (Durham Radio).
  • CFJR, Brockville, Ontario. (My broadcasting company).
  • CJPT, Brockville, Ont. (My broadcasting company).
  • CFLY, Kingston, Ontario. (My broadcasting company).
  • CKLC, Kingston, Ontario. (My broadcasting company).
  • 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, Que. (Arsenal Media).
  • CIKI, Rimouski, Que. (Arsenal Media).
  • CJOI, Rimouski, Que. (Arsenal Media).
  • CFVM, Amqui, Que. (Arsenal Media).
  • CIKX, Grand Falls, New Brunswick (Maritime Broadcasting).
  • CJCJ, Woodstock, New Brunswick (Maritime Broadcasting).
  • CKBC, Bathurst, New Brunswick (Maritime Broadcasting).
  • CKTO, Truro, Nova Scotia (Maritime Broadcasting).
  • CKTY, Truro, Nova Scotia (Maritime Broadcasting).

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