Canadian Broadcasting Corporation staff across the country are bracing for three town-hall meetings on Thursday, where they will learn their fate in the wake of a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall after the broadcaster lost the rights to National Hockey League games.
Employees are expecting deep cuts, with some told that the sports, sales, and factual programming departments will be hit especially hard.
Hubert Lacroix, the president of CBC/Radio-Canada, will address all employees at 12:30 p.m. (ET), where he is expected to outline how the broadcaster will respond to an estimated $100-million revenue shortfall in the next broadcast year. Separate town halls will be held afterwards for the English-language CBC and French-language Radio-Canada staff.
In January, Lacroix warned in a memo of "dark clouds on the horizon." He said he had informed the CBC board that a weak industry-wide advertising market, poor TV ratings, lower than expected advertising revenue for CBC Radio 2 and Espace musique, and the loss of hockey broadcast rights were creating a fiscal crisis. Last November, Rogers Media paid $5.2-billion to nab national rights to the next 12 NHL seasons, ending 61 years of CBC control.
In a sub-license agreement, CBC will air Saturday-night games, but will not receive any revenue from ad sales. Hockey brings in an estimated $100-million of CBC's annual advertising revenue, which during the 2011-12 broadcast season reached $375-million. (The 2012-13 broadcast year, which was hit by an NHL lockout, brought in only $330-million.)
Rumours at CBC about the heavy cuts spread over the last month, and escalated after staff were informed at the end of March about the upcoming town hall. "We recognize that it has created uncertainties amongst our employees and we are sensitive to the situation," said spokesperson France Belisle, in an e-mailed statement.
The broadcaster is already struggling to deal with the second large cut to its operating budget since 2009. In 2012, its government appropriation was slashed by $115-million over five years, reducing it from $1.03-billion in the 2011-12 fiscal year to $913-million in 2014-15. At the time, Lacroix estimated the cuts would mean about 175 fewer hours of original programming in each TV season. The broadcaster put some of its big-budget shows, such as Battle of the Blades, temporarily on ice.
"It's harder and harder to continue working under that kind of atmosphere. Every six months at CBC, the world changes," said Marc-Philippe Laurin, the CBC branch president at the Canadian Media Guild, the union for the broadcaster's English services employees. "We're not talking about cutting to the bone. We're into the marrow now."
The broadcaster has 6,994 permanent staff as well as an additional 859 contract employees and 329 temporary employees across all services.
Last month, Rogers also snapped up the CBC's prime-time talk-show host George Stroumboulopoulos to anchor its hockey coverage, which it will air on up to 13 networks.