The Canadian Association of Broadcasters is warning the CRTC that without regulatory relief the industry could lose as many 200 radio stations over the next 18 months, plus the closure of 40 or more of Canada’s 94 private local TV stations in the next 12 to 37 months.
The dire warning is spelled out in a media release issued Aug. 26. In it, the CAB states “the shutdown of our economy, businesses and homes during Covid-19 has further accelerated the economic erosion of the industry. Canada’s local television and radio broadcasters now face a projected revenue shortfall totaling over $1 billion in the three years between 2020 and 2022.”
“Canadian private television and radio are in crisis,” said Lenore Gibson, Chair of the CAB Board of Directors in the same release. “Without immediate action, Canada will see a wave of local television and radio closures over the next three years. This will deny many communities a daily local media voice, and significantly reduce the diversity of news choices and voices in almost every community in Canada.”
The same SOS says that “Canadians have grown accustomed to reliable and well-run local news and reporting. Four of the top five news sources for Canadians are private broadcasters, according to the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2020. But the ability to maintain this crucial infrastructure has been chipped away over the last 15 years because of structural changes in the advertising market and the inequitable taxation and regulatory treatment of foreign-owned online media giants. This has directly led to the financial crisis facing private local television and radio stations, which rely almost exclusively on advertising revenue.
“In addition to the devastating effect on the Canadian news sector, the continued reduction of resources for local news also means more job losses including, sadly, local journalists and newsgatherers. In private radio, these closures could lead to an estimated 2,000 job losses, or 24% of 2019 employment levels.”
The CAB is suggesting three possible courses of action.
Given the urgency of the situation, two of the three need to be done almost immediately, and the third needs to start almost immediately, but will likely have a 12-month timeline, according to the association.
1. First, we have seen that the current federal government pandemic economic assistance programs might cover only part of the monthly revenue losses hitting private radio and private conventional television. Additional forms of assistance should be devised and implemented as quickly as possible because those local stations are an important – and in some cases, the only – source of local news.
2. Second, starting immediately, and to cover at least the next two broadcast fiscal years, there must be regulatory relief for private radio and television stations, to recognize the impact of the economic disruption on their ability to fulfill certain conditions of licence, and to recognize the need for modifications in operating arrangements that might help to realize cost-savings.
3. And third, starting immediately, and to be ready for consideration in 12 months, a thorough, holistic, review of the future of media in Canada – in other words, a realistic plan for "what comes next", and how we can best achieve it. Such a plan might include: a)A range of “possible futures” – where the industry might be in five years; b)Determining which of those possible futures are best for public policy goals (like local news); and c)Determining the best combination of corporate structures and public intervention that might bring us closer to the most positive of the possible futures that appears to be achievable. In short, we must sustain community assets – and local news in particular – while planning for an organized, measurable, transition to “what comes next”.