The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will cut 657 positions and get out of the business of airing professional sports, a pillar of its programming for more than 60 years, as part of a plan to confront a $130-million revenue shortfall projected for the 2014-15 broadcast year.
The cuts represent about 8 per cent of the broadcaster's total work force, compensating for lower ratings and an industry-wide slump in the TV ad market.
"As of today, CBC and Radio Canada is out of the business of competing with the private [broadcasters] for professional sports," Hubert Lacroix, president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, said Thursday in a corporate-wide town hall with employees.
In November, in an illustration of the skyrocketing costs of live sports rights, Rogers Communications Inc. purchased all national rights for the next 12 years of NHL games for $5.2-billion.
CBC will also take a hard look at signature amateur events, such as the Olympics and the Pan-Am Games. "We will only consider broadcasting an event that will allow us to at least cover our costs," Mr. Lacroix said.
The news, sports, advertising sales, and communications departments will be hit especially hard, with the broadcaster moving to consolidate its news coverage in a number of areas across the country. CBC Music will produce and record fewer live concerts. The broadcaster will also get out of the business of expensive reality TV productions, such as Battle of the Blades, a popular show that would prove prohibitively expensive under the new financial constraints.
Heather Conway, the executive vice-president of English-language services, told staff in a meeting that "shiny-floored elimination shows" were more appropriate on the private broadcast networks. "If you want to see The Voice, if you want to see The Amazing Race, there's a place for you to go. That's not us," she said.
There will be one fewer original TV series on the English-language network. And George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, which is concluding its 10-year run at the end of the current TV season when the host moves to Rogers Media as the anchor of its NHL coverage, will be replaced by reruns of a yet-to-be-named CBC-TV series.
The nightly 10-minute late-night news broadcast in the North will also be cancelled.
Of the 657 eliminated positions, 334 are from English-language services, comprising 234 from network operations and 100 from the regions, and 323 from the French-language Radio-Canada service.
Mr. Lacroix rejected the idea that CBC should drop its advertising and become viewer-funded. Ms. Conway noted that the CBC still expects to earn $240-million in advertising revenue next year, and that selling tote bags "makes for bad TV."
CBC supporters commiserated over social media as news of the cuts rolled out, but the despair was not universal even within the cultural community.
"I welcome them. I would have cut 1,500 jobs [although] I have enormous sympathy for people who get caught in change," said Michael Levine, chairman of Westwood Creative Artists and an executive producer of film and television. "I think [cutting] hockey was a favour to them and these cuts are a favour to them, if it doesn't go so deep they can't make quality programming. Their sweet spot has got to be good news [programming] – but a lot leaner – good drama and some documentary and arts programming. … I feel they must be distinctively different to survive."
Meanwhile, Denis McGrath, executive producer of the Canadian sci-fi series Continuum on Showcase, wondered if the CBC has the leadership to stop infighting. "There has never been leadership or vision to attack the things in CBC that truly need changing – the absurd layers of management that don't exist in other, leaner broadcast outlets," he said in an e-mail. "People like the idea of the CBC – but more than not, they don't like what it does. And no matter how many rounds of cuts we go through, that fundamental issue never seems to get addressed."
Mr. Lacroix said the cuts will reflect the current 87-per-cent/13-per-cent ratio of union-to-management staff, though there may be slightly more cut from management ranks.
The head of the CBC's English-language union said staff were already reeling from a $115-million cut in government funding in 2012. "These are talented people, who are dedicated to telling our stories and keeping us informed from one end of the country to the other," said Marc-Philippe Laurin, in a statement. "We've been through years – decades of cuts. The situation we're in is untenable."
With a report from Kate Taylor