CBC announces changes to local supper-hour newscasts

The CBC is shortening all of its regional supper-hour newscasts beginning in the fall of 2015, the public broadcaster announced today.

Increased emphasis on mobile coming in 2015, broadcaster says, as regional newscasts cut in length

The CBC announced in a statement Thursday that the newscasts would be shorter from coast to coast, some reduced to one hour and others to 30 minutes. Most of the existing supper-hour newscasts are 90 minutes. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The CBC is shortening all of its regional supper-hour newscasts beginning in the fall of 2015, the public broadcaster announced today.

The news comes after CBC president and CEO Hubert T. Lacroix said in June that the broadcaster would be shifting its priorities from television and radio to digital and mobile services. He also said the 2020 strategy would shorten supper-hour news broadcasts, but did not provide full specifics.

Most of the existing supper-hour newscasts run 90 minutes. But on Thursday, the CBC said in a statement that some newscasts would be reduced to one hour, and others to 30 minutes. 

The 60-minute newscasts will be in:

  • Vancouver.
  • Winnipeg.
  • Toronto.
  • Ottawa.
  • Halifax.
  • Charlottetown.
  • St. John's.
  • The North.

The North newscast will include 30 minutes in English and 30 minutes in Inuktitut.

Newscasts will be reduced to half an hour in the following cities:

  • Calgary.
  • Edmonton.
  • Regina.
  • Windsor.
  • Montreal.
  • Fredericton. 

All newscasts will start at 6 p.m. local time, regardless of length.

"These constant changes to news delivery models, broadcasts, the time they are offered and their length, push viewers to pull away from the CBC," the Canadian Media Guild union said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.

Increased newsgathering

Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor in chief of CBC News, said the service is at one hour in cities with a strong business case.

"This is not just about changing the length of supper-hours, this is about changing how we serve the audience," McGuire said in a note to staff. "It is transforming our concentration in communities from mainly over the supper hour, to a comprehensive, four-platform local news service — across the day and on demand."

To that end, CBC will air regular local television newsbreaks at the top of the hour during the afternoon and prime time.

The broadcaster will also "create newsgathering capacity in Fort McMurray, Alta., and increase our newsgathering presence in Quebec’s Eastern Townships," in both cases filing to internet, radio and TV, McGuire said.

Local Radio One morning shows will appear on TV from 6 to 7 a.m. in all existing TV markets except the North.

Spending on local investigative journalism will be maintained or increased, and local radio programs will be untouched, McGuire said.

Carmel Smyth, national president of the CMG, disputed the idea that the plan would help regional coverage, saying it would "hack at the roots" of the local newsgathering process.

"The uneven approach to the cuts seems unfair and unbecoming of public broadcasting," Smyth said. "These are the same places that are often least well served by private media."

New mobile services 

CBC/Radio-Canada said it will also introduce new services specifically for mobile users, while "strengthening" existing desktop and web. McGuire said in an interview that all the changes are meant to position the broadcaster toward digital, providing continuous local service through the day rather than concentrated service in the evening.

The changes will include more resources for online news, but the specifics haven't been worked out yet, she said. 

Marc-Philippe Laurin, the union's CBC branch president, took issue with the strategy, saying the announcement by the CBC "shows the absurdity of trying to plan for 2020 in the context of harsh and continuing budget cuts." 

It was revealed earlier this year that funding shortfalls and revenue losses led CBC/Radio-Canada to cut $130 million from this year’s budget, forcing 657 job cuts (to be implemented over two years) and taking the network out of competition for the rights to broadcast professional sports.

CBC’s 2020 plan will leave the broadcaster with 1,000 to 1,500 fewer employees, on top of the 657 job cuts already announced in April.

About 1,000 employees are eligible for retirement, and about 300 leave through attrition every year, according to the broadcaster.