Moses Znaimer, the creative force behind CHUM Ltd.'s growing TV empire, hasn't made a decision as to whether he'll leave the company as he embarks on a sabbatical to ponder his future role.
"He is very tired. He's done this for 30 years straight," said a source close to Mr. Znaimer, founder and president of Toronto-based CITY-TV and vice-president of corporate development.
He has not made any decision about his future at the company, the source said.
On Tuesday, Mr. Znaimer notified CHUM staff he will absent from the company for several months.
"I think what he [Mr. Znaimer]really needs to do is go west, take one step back and contemplate how he can be most productive in the period ahead. Whether that involves change or not is premature to say, but it is quite clear he wants perspective right now," the source said.
One option Mr. Znaimer might consider, the source suggested, is returning to manage CHUM's educational assets, including the Canadian Learning Channel.
Mr. Znaimer is CHUM's best-known personality and is widely considered a visionary in TV broadcasting. He launched community station CITY-TV in 1972, creating a blueprint for interactive TV that has spread across Canada and the world. He has been the on-air host of several series and specials, including The Originals on specialty channel Bravo and TVTV: The Television Revolution.
The accompanying ego is as monumental as his legacy. His west-end Toronto backyard was rearranged in the eighties to accommodate metre-high letters spelling out "Moses."
The potential departure of Mr. Znaimer from CHUM, owner of 28 radio stations, eight local TV stations and 17 specialty channels, follows an extensive December management shuffle. Allan Waters, owner of 87.9 per cent of CHUM's voting shares, and sons Jim and Ron handed over day-to-day management of the company to newly appointed president and chief executive officer Jay Switzer.
Management changes "suggested that everybody was at a point in their lives they wanted to rethink," the source said. "All the signals are there for anybody who cares to look . . . he's [Mr. Znaimer]been talking about this for a decade and this seemed like the perfect moment with Allan stepping down and Jay stepping in. This gives Jay some living room to take control of the management team and not feel that there is anyone there."
Neither Mr. Znaimer nor Mr. Switzer could be reached.
Sources at CHUM suggest Mr. Znaimer's presence has hampered Mr. Switzer's efforts to raise his profile in the industry and on Bay Street. Mr. Znaimer is often assumed to be CHUM's owner when in fact he is a minority shareholder. CHUM acquired control of money-losing CITY-TV in 1978 for about $13-million.
Industry sources speculate Mr. Znaimer's review of his future is indicative of the cultural shift at CHUM under new management.
"There is a different administration and a different CEO in charge at the place, and that may have been the impetus for major change. When it was Mr. Waters who ran the place, families are often more willing to go along with the status quo. Now that may no longer be true," one industry source said.
Mr. Znaimer is CHUM's highest paid executive. In fiscal 2002, he earned $1,583,142 in compensation, a sum that includes about $800,000 in fees paid to Olympus Management Ltd., a private company under his control. Fees paid to Olympus are based on the earnings of CHUM's TV properties.
If the veteran broadcaster and CHUM part company, terms may be costly. According to the terms of an amended 1996 agreement, if CHUM cancels its deal with Olympus without cause, it must pay the Znaimer company a sum equal to 36 times the average monthly amount payable over the past two years. Olympus may terminate the deal with six months' notice. If Olympus terminates within six months of the acquisition of CHUM by someone other than the Waters' family, the management company is entitled to 48 times the average monthly payment over the past two years.
CHUM reported a stronger first-quarter earnings performance yesterday, in part because of an improved advertising market. For the three months ended Nov. 30, the company reported a profit of $13.6-million or $1.17 a share compared with $7.7-million or 66 cents a share a year earlier. Revenue was $149-million, up 21 per cent from $123.6-million a year earlier. Operating expenses during the three-month period rose to $117.2-million from $103.1-million. The 14-per-cent increase was because of the startup of new operations over the past year, including conventional TV stations in Victoria and Vancouver.
Next year, the company's TV operations will face increased competition for programming and advertising dollars in its hometown market. Craig Broadcast Systems Inc. plans to launch its Toronto One TV channel in September, a service CHUM unsuccessfully opposed before the federal broadcasting regulator. The company also wants to expand its reach in Western Canada and has filed applications to launch TV services in Alberta.