It was announced Wednesday that Ottawa’s local CTV station (CJOH) was firing some of its on-air talent in a bid to boost profits. Gone are long-time newscaster Carol Anne Meehan and sports reporter Carolyn Waldo, and CTV Morning Live’s Lois Lee. I won’t comment on the fact that most of the on-air talent cut was female, leaving a remarkably white middle-aged male look to the evening newscast. That is evident. But these cuts, made not only to Ottawa’s local station, are signs of something deeper in Canadian broadcasting – that is the loss of local content.
Bell has over the last several years drastically reduced its capacity to report and represent the local and regional voice with cuts at its local stations. The bottom line is often quoted as the reason, and the changing nature of viewing content with the new types of social media, the justification. In this instance Bell is saying this will increase their profits, not address any problems in debt. They don’t need to cut, they want to cut. This type of cutting however fails to address the real problem that the CTV and the CBC have, and that is content. There is some type of vision involved here that believes that by centralizing their operations, reducing their presence in the regions that they are somehow able to provide a better product at a cheaper price, when they are in fact just making a cheaper product.
Content doesn’t just magically appear, and in the main requires long-term investment. The presence of a diverse and interested company in the regions allows for the creation of diverse and interesting content for their various media portals – television and web. And just because material is regional in nature does not preclude the fact that it will appeal to a wider audience.
Canada is a very large country, and has many distinct regions. There was a time when there were more local television stations, which produced a fair number of television programs for their specific market, as well as airing nationally produced network shows, and the usual selection of American programming. Now of course the only local programming appears to be the news, and for some of the markets there are no local stations at all. With such drastic cuts to the on-air talent at stations like CJOH, it makes you wonder at their ability to cover a fairly large viewing area with only a handful of reporters. How will the local voice be heard?
It all comes back to the question of content. This brave new world of internet, streaming, satellite, etc has given the viewing audience a plethora of options. They turn from the traditional television broadcasts in search of content – to see something different, something that they can relate to. This comes at a time when the traditional broadcasters are cutting back on their productions. And while I understand that networks cannot be all things to all people, it does not mean that they should abandon their ability to provide much needed content. Short term profit gains made by these cuts for Bell Media are just that short term. In the long term they are cutting away at their ability to make continued profits, and adapt to the changing market.