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Telecom giant Bell is expected to end its lead sponsorship of the Toronto International Film Festival after this year’s edition, two sources say, which could create even more financial uncertainty for the festival as the screen sector struggles to recover from pandemic lockdowns.

The festival is also facing a dearth of star power going into its 2023 edition next month amid major strikes involving U.S. actors and writers. Losing its main sponsor of 28 years, whose name has been emblazoned on the festival’s flagship TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre since the facility’s 2010 opening, would be a further setback in an era when many movie fans prefer to stay on their couches.

The Globe and Mail is not naming its sources because they were not authorized to comment on the situation.

Bell, a subsidiary of BCE Inc. BCE-T, contributes a significant portion of TIFF’s roughly $14-million in sponsorship funding each year. The festival also takes in revenue from ticket sales, government grants and philanthropic donations.

BCE has been raising concerns about the headwinds facing its media division amid a challenging ad market and competition from streaming services. It asked Canada’s telecom regulator in June to waive local news and Canadian programming requirements for its television stations. The company also cut 1,300 jobs that month and said it would shutter six radio stations and sell three others.

The Toronto Star first reported Bell’s sponsorship exit. TIFF draws thousands of people to Toronto annually, but there is no end in sight to the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union and Writers Guild of America strikes, which are expected to leave red carpets devoid of major celebrities as they spend their time on picket lines.

Bell did not immediately respond to a request for comment. TIFF declined to confirm the news.

The end of Bell’s sponsorship comes the same month that TIFF’s vice-president of partnerships, Elisabeth Burks, and its chief operating officer, Beth Janson, both stepped down. They were hired only last year, and there are no immediate plans to fill either position.

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