Canada's only French-language business TV channel is shutting down after an 11-year run as owner TVA Group Inc. cuts bait amid new federal regulations on channel choice.
Quebecor Media's TVA Group confirmed Tuesday it will wind down its Argent business channel as of April 30. The network said it made the decision reluctantly, explaining that despite numerous efforts in recent years, it was "difficult if not impossible" for the specialty channel to maintain consistent profitability.
"At a time when the [federal] government is sending millions of dollars to the public broadcaster, the closure of Argent is a good illustration of the difficulties private broadcasters face in a rapidly changing industry," TVA Group president Julie Tremblay said, referring to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
A financial summary provided to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission shows that Argent was profitable for several years but lost money from 2012 to 2014. The station's subscribers reached nearly one million in 2010 before crashing to 552,000 four years later. Its pretax profit margin slid from 10 per cent to negative 31 per cent over that time. By contrast, Toronto-based Business News Network, owned by BCE Inc., topped six million subscribers in each of those five years and boasted a margin of between 36 per cent and 44 per cent throughout the period.
"I think Quebeckers just lost interest in the channel," said Daniel Giroux of Laval University's media studies centre. "The options for obtaining financial news and information have increased over the years and I suspect Argent was simply less attractive to people than it used to be."
TVA Group pinned the deterioration of Argent subscriber numbers on changes that cable providers have made to their TV packages over the years. At the end of 2015, Argent's subscribers had dropped even further to 440,000, said Véronique Mercier, vice-president of communications for TVA Group. She said new CRTC rules coming into effect this year that aim to give consumers more control over TV channel choices mean the station's subscribers will continue to fall since the channel is no longer part of a basic cable package or in preassembled packages offered by many cable providers.
"It's a victim of the unbundling pick-and-pay regime," said Peter Miller, a Toronto-based lawyer and consultant in the communications industry. "Rather than being in a package where everyone gets it but only 10 or 20 per cent watch it, now they're [facing] packages that are selected by the consumers, and they're not being selected."
The wind-down of Argent comes as TVA Group faces the prospect of a significant hit on its sports channel revenue from the absence of a Canadian team in the National Hockey League playoffs. TVA in 2013 bought the French-language broadcasting and multimedia rights to NHL games from Rogers Communications Inc. in a 12-year deal.
The Argent name and brand, which translates to Money, will remain in use on TVA's other content platforms including online, the network said. It gave no details on job losses.
TVA Group launched Argent in 2005, promising to "inform viewers who are baffled by market reversals and corporate decisions" about the intricacies of the business world and the implications for their personal finances. Transcontinental Inc. and BCE were partners with TVA when the CRTC awarded a broadcasting licence for the channel but TVA later bought them out.
Outside Quebec, BNN faces competition for viewer eyeballs from Bloomberg TV Canada, which started broadcasting late last year with a mix of Canadian and non-Canadian content, and U.S.-based CNBC.