The parent company to Bell is reportedly axing 1,300 jobs as a cost-cutting measure to "significantly adapt" how it delivers the news.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Bell executive vice-president and chief legal and regulatory officer Robert Malcolmson said they could no longer wait for regulatory reform that may never come to fruition.
"We are horizontally combining the news production function so that you have one common platform serving news to the relevant outlet from one management team," he said.
Bell Media needed help to manage different brands operating independently. They include CTV National News, BNN, CP24, local TV stations and radio channels.
According to an internal memo, the company plans to operate from a single newsroom to consolidate costs and allow for "greater collaboration."
Employees from Winnipeg's Funny 1290, Calgary's Funny 1060, Edmonton's TSN 1260 Radio, Vancouver's BNN Bloomberg Radio 1410 and Funny 1040, along with London's NewsTalk 1290 learned they would be out of a job. The cuts represent 6% of Bell Media's workforce.
Subject to CRTC approval, they are also selling Hamilton's AM Radio 1150 and AM 820, as well as Windsor's AM 580, to an undisclosed third party.
"It's a consolidation of news gathering, news delivery," added Malcolmson.
In addition, corporate management positions also received 6% cuts, while one-in-five executive roles also received the axe.
Bell Media president Wade Oosterman said he informed the affected staff this week in a separate internal memo. Three in every ten vacancies left by their departure would be permanent workforce reductions the company would not fill.
Oosterman listed "the ongoing migration of advertising revenue to foreign digital platforms" such as Facebook and Google as a reason for the workforce consolidation and the consumer shift from traditional deliveries of media to digital streaming platforms.
"We are also faced with strong economic and inflationary pressures, a pullback in advertisers' budgets, and a challenging regulatory environment that has been too slow to adjust," he said.
Should Bill C-18, the Online News Act, become law, Parliament would compel Google and Meta to pay for Canadian journalism that helps CRTC-approved companies generate ad revenue.
Since 2019, Parliament has subsidized outlets deemed "qualified" by the Canada Revenue Agency, worth up to 25% of the annual payroll or $13,750 per newsroom employee. The $595 million bailout program expires on March 31, 2024.
Meta said it is prepared to permanently end access to news content in Canada if Parliament passes Bill C-18, which would require tech giants to pay media a portion of their ad revenues from linked stories. Google otherwise seeks a compromise with Ottawa.
"We're very concerned about the path we're on, and we're doing everything we can to engage constructively and avoid a negative outcome for Canadians," said Google spokesperson Shay Purdy, clarifying the company wants to increase its investment in Canadian news.
Rachel Curran, the head of public policy for Meta Canada, told senators in a committee last month that the company objects to compensating media for sharing news content. She claims the company gave media over 1.9 million clicks in Canada in the past year, or "free marketing worth more than $230 million."
"We will be forced to compensate news publishers for the material they post to drive traffic and clicks back to their page and websites," said Curran. "We are being asked to compensate them for an activity that benefits them financially."
Canada president and CEO Mirko Bibic published an open letter on Wednesday, stating Bell Canada is on the hook to lose at least $250 million in legacy phone revenues annually and $40 million from news operations.
As a result, Bell Media laid off 210 employees in the Toronto area in 2021.
"The job reductions are consistent with but smaller than similar reductions announced by other leading technology and media companies across North America in recent months," said Bibic, adding profits have been cut in half for its radio stations since the start of the COVID pandemic.
CTV's foreign bureaus in London, U.K, and Los Angeles are set to close, except for the Washington Bureau, which "will be scaled back to focus more fully on important news from the USA and the impacts on Canada."
Malcolmson attributed Wednesday's decision to regulatory challenges impacting its telecommunications and media arm, leaving the company in an "unenviable place."
The company's chief legal and regulatory officer lamented the ongoing dialogue from Bill C-18, which he said could be for naught if Meta and Google restrict or block news links on their sites.
Malcolmson also contends that Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act, does not solve the "fundamental problem" that major streaming platforms withhold popular American content from Canadian TV.
He added that Bell Media could no longer justify losing money in waiting for regulatory reform.
"The time for waiting for reform is over," he said. Those reforms may never come, so we have a responsibility to our shareholders and employees to ensure the business can be positioned for future growth, which means we have to make our cost structure make sense."
"We can't wait [amid] $80 million of losses in the news to see what the government might do. At some point, we have to say to ourselves, 'Is it worth funding this?'"
The company has not ruled out further job cuts from its workforce pending the outcome of federal regulatory reform.