December 25, 2020
There was a bitter irony to what befell Canada’s local television and radio broadcasters when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Just as the need for local news and information rose, the advertising revenue that broadcasters rely on plunged as large sections of the economy were shut down to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.
“We became more of an essential service, because people were looking to us,” said Carmela Laurignano, vice-president and radio group manager at the Evanov Radio Group. “And at the same time … revenues were diminishing by the hour.”
Between April and August, advertising revenues at the country’s local television and radio stations fell by about 52.7 per cent compared to last year, according to data from the Canadian Association of Broadcasters. In order to adapt, many stations were forced to lay off staff, reduce the amount of local programming that they produced and, in some instances, shut down entirely.
Evanov Radio – which owns and operates more than a dozen stations in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and Quebec – went line by line through its expenses to see which ones could be reduced. The company also called up each of its suppliers – from software companies to cleaners and landscapers – asking for help, Ms. Laurignano said. Many stepped up, offering price reductions or deferred payment options. “It proved to be a really good and worthwhile exercise and I think we’re going to benefit from that into the future.”
Still, the company had to make some difficult decisions. It laid off 10 employees, out of its workforce of about 300, and took AM980 CHRF, a French-language station in Montreal, off the air. The station was already underperforming prior to the pandemic due to market conditions, said Ms. Laurignano. “We decided to cut our losses.”
Soft 103.9, a station in Kelowna, B.C., has also gone silent since the start of the global health crisis, and others may follow. A report published in August by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters predicts that as many as 200 of the country’s 737 private radio stations could close their doors over the next year; roughly 2,000 jobs could be lost as a result. AM radio stations and those in smaller markets are at greatest risk. Almost half of the country’s private television stations could also be in jeopardy, according to the report.
“It’s been carnage out there,” said Daniel Bernhard, executive director of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a journalism advocacy group. “There are an increasing number of Canadian cities and towns and areas that now have no local media at all – no newspaper, hardly no local broadcaster.”
READ THE REST OF THIS EXCLUSIVE GLOBE AND MAIL FEATURE AT https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-fighting-for-air-local-radio-and-tv-stations-face-a-battle-for/