Broadcast television revenues slip again in 2013

Canada's traditional broadcasters made less money last year even as a reduction in the cost of doing business was outpaced by a sharp decline in advertising revenue.
Conventional broadcasters are earning less money and cutting back on spending, a CRTC report shows. (CBC)

Canada's traditional broadcasters made less money last year even as a reduction in the cost of doing business was outpaced by a sharp decline in advertising revenue.

Canada's broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, said in a report Tuesday that Canada's private television networks took in more than $1.9 billion in revenue in the most recent fiscal year, which ended in August.

That was a 4.6 per cent decline from the previous year, which saw Canada's major broadcasters take in some $2.03 billion. (That, too, was a four per cent decline from the previous year's level.)

The industry as a whole posted a loss before taxes of just over $69 million. That's more than twice as much as the loss seen the previous year.

(The CRTC report covers so-called "conventional" television stations, and doesn't include specialty channels like BNN, CBCNN, TSN, HGTV and YTV. The financial picture for that segment of the broadcast landscape looks much better, as a separate set of CRTC data released last week showed such channels combining to earn more than $4 billion during the same period.)

Much of the decline for conventional TV was related to a slowdown in advertising revenue, which fell 5.3 per cent to $1.28 billion last year from $1.35 billion the 12 months before that. Local ad sales slipped one per cent to $351 million. But a loss of $39 million from the Local Program Improvement Fund was also a contributor to the overall decline in revenues.

That ad slide was met with a corresponding decrease in those channels' expenses, which shrank by a little over three per cent from just over $1.9 billion to about $1.85 billion.

With lower revenues (and lower costs) conventional channels spent less on Canadian programming, too. "Investments by private local television stations in Canadian-made programs decreased by 8.5 per cent from $661.8 million in 2012 to $605.4 million in 2013," the CRTC said in a release.

But part of that drop is explained by the reduction in spending compared to 2012, when CTV lavished money on coverage of the London Olympic Games, the regulator notes.

While the CRTC figures for conventional networks do not include CBC figures, the public broadcaster experienced a similar decline in ad spending.

For the year as a whole, CBC/SRC reported advertising revenues of $331.1 million, which represented an 11 per cent decrease from the $372.7 million generated the previous year. The public broadcaster also spent $724.6 million on programming during the year, 97 per cent of which was spent on Canadian programs.