Canada's oldest national morning TV show is going off the air Friday, one day after Bell Media abruptly announced it was ending the 43-year run of Canada AM to make way for a new, as yet untitled 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. broadcast.
The unusual move caught fans by surprise, spawning an online outpouring of remembrances for a television touchstone whose hosts included dozens of the country's best-known broadcasters, from Norm Perry and Pamela Wallin to Valerie Pringle, Seamus O'Regan, and current co-hosts Beverly Thomson and Marci Ien, as well as the weather and sports anchor Jeff Hutcheson, who is retiring after 18 years with the program.
Bell Media said Ms. Thomson and Ms. Ien would be moved to other assignments.
The shutdown comes months after editorial control of the show was taken away from CTV's News division and placed under Nanci MacLean, the entertainment vice-president of Bell Media Production who oversaw the launch of the network's early afternoon chat fest The Social.
"As the television landscape continues to evolve, so too must our programming," said Randy Lennox, who became Bell Media's president of entertainment production and broadcasting last August after a long career in the music business. "We look forward to building upon the success of Canada AM as we move forward."
He made the comments in a press release announcing the show's finale, which was issued 45 minutes after Thursday morning's penultimate broadcast.
Bell executives are expected to announce the format and hosts of the new show next Wednesday during the TV industry's Upfront week, when the country's private TV broadcasters unveil their plans for the fall season to advertisers.
Industry speculation is that the new show's hosts will include Ben Mulroney, the long-time face of CTV's flagship prime-time entertainment magazine eTalk.
Other names floated for the show include Anne-Marie Mediwake, who recently decamped from CBC Toronto without announcing her next assignment.
Canada AM has been facing an especially challenging environment: While it recently attracted an average audience of 300,000 across the main CTV network and CTV Newsnet, its audience among the 25- to 54-year-old demographic that is coveted by advertisers was down to about 70,000 to 80,000.
The move comes amid wide uncertainty and growing financial losses in the broadcast television industry. In the year ended Aug. 31, 2015, Bell Media's CTV and CTV2 conventional TV networks lost more than $20-million, up sharply from the year before. Rogers Media's conventional TV operations, which include the CITY network, suffered a $67-million operational loss during the same period. Both media companies have endured punishing rounds of layoffs over the past year.
Still, there are huge opportunities for nimble media companies that can deploy their offerings to online audiences. A recent study by Toronto-based consultants Solutions Research Group (SRG) found a titanic spike in online consumption, especially during the daytime hours.
In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, SRG president Kaan Yigit wrote that, while "TV is indeed nearly unbeatable" during the 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. prime-time viewing period, "when we looked at the 6 to 10 a.m. morning period, we found that twice as many people are on social media vs. TV in an average day (e.g. at least one or more of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.). Do they have to tune in to TV if they don't already have the habit?"
With a report from James Bradshaw