Last fall, CBC lost the NHL rights to Rogers Media because it couldn’t afford to spend $5.2-billion on hockey for its one TV channel. On Tuesday, it lost one of its highest-profile personalities, Kevin O’Leary, to Bell Media, where he will become an on-air contributor to that company’s expanding stable of TV and radio properties.
But while Mr. O’Leary said in an interview that he was not making the move for money, both episodes point to the same phenomenon: the increasing dependence on cross-promotion as a business strategy, which the public broadcaster cannot pursue with the same intensity as its privately funded competitors.
“I’m interested in promoting some ideas that I think are important for Canadians. I’m a huge advocate for capitalism,” Mr. O’Leary explained. “I’m not interested in money, for working on television, that’s not why I do it. I want the loudest voice I can have for my ideals.”
In moving from CBC to Bell Media, Canada’s largest private broadcaster, he immediately multiplies the outlets for his particular gospel. At CBC Newsnet, where he was co-host of The Lang and O’Leary Exchange, about 70,000 viewers tuned in every night. Appearing on CTV’s flagship morning show Canada AM, as well as the network’s eTalk, The Marilyn Denis Show, and The Social, the financial news channel BNN, and multiple Bell Media radio stations, he could reach millions every week.
In the wake of last year’s $3-billion acquisition of Astral Media, Bell’s extensive television properties now include the CTV and CTV Two networks, which comprise 30 local stations; 35 specialty channels; and four pay-TV services. It also has 106 radio stations. Like other private Canadian broadcasters, Bell has been bulking up in part as a defensive measure against foreign competitors such as Netflix.
Meanwhile, over the years CBC has been hamstrung both by a lack of funds and questions about the appropriateness of expanding its TV holdings: It recently divested itself of the small cable channel known as Bold. But as Rogers gears up over the next month to promote its signature NHL hockey programming across dozens of radio, TV and magazine properties, and Bell offers multiple outlets to brands such as Mr. O’Leary, CBC is looking increasingly isolated.
“We think we used Kevin effectively across what we have, but certainly we don’t have the depth of other [broadcasters], for sure,” Jennifer McGuire, the general manager and editor in chief of CBC News and Centres, said in an interview on Tuesday. “We just don’t have the breadth of places to go.”
On Tuesday, Mr. O’Leary said he would likely be appearing across dozens of Bell’s radio stations – including Toronto’s Newstalk 1010, CJAD 800 in Montreal and 580 CFRA in Ottawa – where he would promote a small-government, pro-entrepreneur agenda that includes financial literacy for Canadian families. Equally popular and polarizing for his sharp opinions, he is also seen on the U.S. financial cable news channel CNBC as an unpaid contributor.
In recent years, he has moved his focus more to the U.S., where he is a co-host of the ABC-TV reality-TV show Shark Tank, which is also broadcast on CTV. While praising CBC as “the identity and DNA of our country,” he said part of his motivation for the move was to be able to talk about Shark Tank freely to the women who watch The Social and Canada AM.
“I will be heavily promoting Shark Tank in everything I do, because I believe the lessons of life and business are encapsulated in a way that young people are going to engage in. The fastest-growing demographic for that show is 18-49-year-old women,” he said.
“I want to be on The Social because that is one of the most successful platforms for young women in this country, and I want to talk about money. I want to talk about the responsibility, when you form relationships with people and you start families, what the role of money is, and that’s what you’re going to see me doing there.”
Though it is a dominant broadcaster, Bell Media has its share of difficulties: This summer, it is in the midst of laying off 120 employees to confront what it calls a “general softness in the TV advertising market, a shift in customer spending to online services” such as Netflix, and competition from CBC’s broadcast of the FIFA World Cup.
(Bell Media’s parent company owns 15 per cent of The Globe and Mail.)