The company that provides news services for Hamilton-based CHCH-TV has filed for bankruptcy as its owner announced a significant restructuring that will cut jobs, while leading to far less local programming on air.
The station abruptly cancelled its evening newscasts for one night on Friday as it announced the changes, and the program CHCH News Now has been cancelled. Some news programming will resume Monday, as the station said in a statement that it will "continue to deliver local news."
But local programming will be slashed to 17.5 hours a week from 80 hours. More than half the staff will be laid off, according to Howard Law, media director for Unifor, the union that represents staff at the station.
CHCH is the city's only over-the-air channel, which makes it available without paying for cable or satellite TV. It is owned by the independent media company Channel Zero Inc. The bankruptcy filing comes from Channel 11 L.P., the company that creates local news for CHCH.
The station has been a mainstay of broadcasting in Hamilton for more than six decades. But local TV has been under intense financial pressure for years amid advertising declines. Private local television stations' revenues fell by $100-million between 2011 and 2012, according to figures from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
"CHCH has been faced with greatly reduced funding and national advertising revenue," said Channel Zero's chairman and chief executive officer, Romen Podzyhun, in an on-air statement. "This new reality put us in an untenable situation and as a result, in order to ensure the continued broadcasting of CHCH, we have made some significant changes to our programming schedule which will result in fewer overall hours of local news being aired."
Mr. Law said he was briefed that the station has been losing $120,000 per week.
The main weekday newscasts at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. will remain on air, as will Morning Live, starting on Tuesday. Some daytime news programs have been cut, however.
A CHCH source who spoke on condition of anonymity said staff were still in the dark about the changes mere minutes before the CEO's announcement aired, but that reporters were not filing for the Friday evening news.
CHCH first went on air in 1954 as an affiliate of the CBC, but became independent in 1961. It has had multiple owners since then, including the now-defunct CanWest Global Communications Corp., and until current owner Channel Zero rescued it from CanWest's bankruptcy by purchasing it in 2009.
Channel Zero also operates a suite of specialty channels such as Rewind and Silver Screen Classics, and last month launched a new network, Bloomberg TV Canada, in partnership with Bloomberg LP.
At a CRTC hearing into the future of TV last fall, several companies including BCE Inc. warned that some local programming, and perhaps some stations, would be imperilled without a new revenue source to prop up local television. Bell's 30 local stations lost a combined $12-million in 2013.
Even the CBC argued it can no longer afford to be free, and pressed the federal regulator to allow it to charge cable and satellite companies a fee for carrying its signal.
The CRTC has also phased out the Local Programming Improvement Fund last year, which CHCH reportedly relied on for millions of dollars in revenue.
"When CHCH was acquired in 2009, funding support for local television was available, along with healthy national advertising revenue. That has since changed dramatically," Mr. Podzyhun said in a written statement.
The federal regulator will host a hearing on local TV, where some broadcasters are expected to plead for new revenue sources, in late January.
Editor's note: An earlier digital version of this story incorrectly stated that the parent company of CHCH filed for bankruptcy; however, Channel 11 LP is actually the company that creates local news for CHCH. This digital version has been corrected.
With files from the Canadian Press