ZoomerMedia Ltd., the Toronto-based media company overseen by industry veteran Moses Znaimer that targets the 45-plus demographic it calls "boomers with zip," is on the hook for almost $800,000 after losing its final appeal in a long-running breach-of-contract suit filed by the former president and CEO of its television division.
Bill Roberts, who headed Vision TV when Zoomer bought the spiritually oriented TV channel for $25-million in 2010 from the charity known as S-VOX, filed suit after he and Zoomer failed to agree on an extension of his employment contract in early 2012 and the company informed him he would be dismissed that October. Although Zoomer gave him eight months' notice, Mr. Roberts claimed the terms of his original contract provided for a severance payment worth two years' salary, or $490,000. He also claimed he was due $150,000 in lieu of a promised six-month sabbatical.
Mr. Roberts, a long-time broadcast executive who was managing director of TVOntario before moving to Vision in 2000, was credited with helping expand the company from its namesake channel to a suite of services that included One: The Body, Mind & Spirit Channel.
The court awarded Mr. Roberts his severance and sabbatical claims, as well as additional costs that brought the total amount to more than $778,000, including interest. He was denied $300,000 he had sought for bad-faith damages, aggravated damages and mental distress or punitive damages. The judge noted that, "Mr. Roberts quite capably performed his working notice and there was nothing mean-spirited in how he ended his time at Zoomer."
A summary judgment was issued in March, 2016, in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Zoomer filed an appeal, which was heard in December, 2016, and dismissed last month.
"I'm pleased to see that, once again, another judicial body has rejected the erroneous and unfair ZoomerMedia position outright," Mr. Roberts said in a statement e-mailed on Tuesday to The Globe and Mail. "While this very welcome Court of Appeal decision brings finality to the breach of contract matter, it can never do full justice to the emotional, health and financial toll this has taken on me and my family."
Zoomer declined to comment.
Since buying Vision and its channels in 2010, Zoomer has run into the same headwinds bedevilling many other media companies, and it faces increasing uncertainty as Canadian TV viewers embrace a pick-and-pay world of channel selection. Vision's programming is an idiosyncratic mix of religious and prayer shows, oldies and high-end imported contemporary fare.
Revenues for the TV division were down 7.5 per cent for the year ended August, 2016. In the most recent quarter, ended Feb. 28, Zoomer, which manages TV, radio, print, Internet and trade-show operations, reported a net loss of $1-million on revenues of $11.8-million. Mr. Znaimer owns 64.3 per cent of the company's common shares through his Olympus Management Ltd.