Entertainment

CBC cuts hit news, drama, sports, radio

CBC English Services plans to cut up to 80 positions from its news division and a further 313 from sports, entertainment, current affairs, sales and support across the country as part of its efforts to make up a $171-million shortfall in 2009-10.

CBC English Services plans to cut up to 80 positions from its news division and a further 313 from sports, entertainment, current affairs, sales and support across the country as part of its efforts to make up a $171-million shortfall in 2009-10.

Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of CBC's English Services, announced details of the cutbacks to radio and TV in a speech to employees on Thursday. The details came a day after CBC president and chief executive Hubert Lacroix announced the public broadcaster would have to cut about 800 full-time positions in total at the CBC/Radio-Canada, as well as selling about $125 million in assets.

The cuts to programming at CBC English Services will mean fewer episodes of many prime-time television shows and cuts to entire programs on both Radio One and Radio 2, Stursberg said.

Changes coming to Radio One and 2

Changes on Radio One include:

  • Cancellations of The Inside Track, Outfront and The Point.
  • Reduction of regional noon-hour programs to one hour.
  • Reductions in drama.

Changes on Radio 2 include:

  • Cancellations of In the Key of Charles (also cut from Radio One) and the weekend edition of The Signal.
  • Reductions in live music production and recordings.
  • More consolidations with Radio 3.

On CBC-TV, investigative programs such as The Fifth Estate and Marketplace will have reduced budgets, though it's not yet known whether that will mean fewer episodes.

Canadians can also expect to see more repeats of many prime-time programs, with shorter seasons ordered for ones including:

  • The Border.
  • This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
  • Being Erica.
  • Little Mosque on the Prairie.

The CBC will also reduce spending on new children's programming and cancel the Living programs produced in each region.

In CBC Sports, there will be reductions or cutbacks in coverage of:

  • International figure skating.
  • CONCACAF Champions League soccer.
  • World aquatics.
  • World athletics.
  • Skiing.

The CBC will also drop its Blue Jays baseball telecasts.

CBC Radio loses 121 jobs

About $14.4 million must come out of radio, leading to a reduction of 121 jobs, including 20 in Toronto.

There will also be job losses in the Ontario cities of Windsor, Thunder Bay and Sudbury, in Quebec City, in the New Brunswick cities of Moncton and Saint John, in Sydney, N.S., and in Corner Brook, Gander and Grand Falls in Newfoundland and Labrador. There will be budget reductions at CBC North.

One-person bureaus in La Ronge, Sask., and Thompson, Man., will be closed.

About 109 positions will come out of television entertainment, including the previously announced cancellations of Fashion File and the placing of Steven & Chris on hiatus. A further three jobs will be cut from CBC-TV Sports.

A total of $7 million must be cut from the news division, including 80 jobs in radio news, current affairs and TV current affairs.

The number of people who lose their jobs could be reduced if a number of employees opt for a retirement package to be announced in April.

Stursberg also said there would be further details released about cuts in news on April 16.

He called the cuts "painful" and said he was worried about the future of news, TV drama and children's programming. He noted that the cuts in drama would also have an impact on dozens of independent producers and their employees.

"We want to maintain as much as we can and stay on strategy as much as possible as we make these cuts," Stursberg said.

He emphasized that radio morning and afternoon drive shows have been spared and radio remains ad-free. On television, the CBC will keep 80 per cent Canadian content in prime time and increase it during the day, with shows such as Martha Stewart and The Simpsons expected to be cancelled.

Cuts needed despite high ratings

He said the CBC tried to make cuts that would maintain the strong position it has now with high ratings in radio and television.

"The irony is, we are in financial difficulty when we're doing better than we've ever done before," he said. More than 20 million Canadians tune in to CBC Radio, CBC-TV and CBC.ca every week, he said. 

Stursberg said he didn't know whether further cuts would be necessary, perhaps a year from now.

Ad revenue by all conventional broadcasters has been falling and private broadcasters, like the CBC, have experienced a steep decline in revenue.

"It depends in very large measure on what happens to earnings. If ad markets recover, we will be in much better shape," Stursberg said.

"We can't really see where the bottom is. No one has any sense of when the economy is going to come back."

At a speech in Montreal on Thursday, Lacroix warned there would be deeper cuts if the CBC is unable to sell assets.

He announced on Wednesday that the CBC was hoping to sell $125 million in assets — but those sales must be approved by the federal government.

Lacroix criticized the Conservatives for leaving the CBC in limbo over its budgetary allocation for 2009-10, saying the government has not yet let the CBC know whether it approved the special $60 million for programming it has received since 2001. The CBC's new fiscal year begins in five days.

In an interview with CBC News on Thursday, Heritage Minister James Moore said the CBC will be receiving its full allocation, including the $60 million for programming.

But he said the bridge loans for which Lacroix had asked as a way of carrying CBC over the recession would not "be in the interest of the CBC."

"If the CBC is in a position where there's not a return of ad revenue and then there are increasing demands on the CBC in order to fulfill its mandate and on top of that they're in a position where they have to now repay a loan, you'll see a real cannibalization of the CBC services across the country and that's not in the best interest of the broadcaster or taxpayers," Moore said.

Supper hour newscasts cut in Quebec

Lacroix said no part of Radio-Canada will be untouched by the cuts.

Among the large cuts on the French side are the elimination of noon hour news shows in Quebec City, Ottawa, Moncton and Sherbrooke and reduction of the supper hour newscasts in those markets to half an hour from an hour.

The programs Vous êtes Ici and Macadam tribus have also been cancelled.

Lacroix also announced Radio Canada International will eliminate its Ukrainian and Cantonese services.

Marc-Philippe Laurin, president of the Canadian Media Guild's CBC branch, said employees face a hard six months.

"It's sad that we've come to expect layoffs as a way of life at CBC," he said in memo to CMG members, saying these decisions "cut to the very heart of what we do and who we are."

"It is also very disappointing that the Conservative government has let this happen at a time when our members and the public broadcaster are doing better than ever in every market across the country in providing valuable and informative programming to Canadians," he added.

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