Bell to cut 1,300 jobs including media, blames ‘regulatory intervention’

Bell blamed government "intervention" on wireless prices but also complained the feds weren't intervening fast enough with Bill C-11 and C-18

Bell is at it again. The company is cutting about three percent of its workforce — 1,300 positions — and closing or selling nine radio stations in an effort to “significantly adapt” how it delivers news. That includes a six percent cut at Bell Media.

According to The Canadian Press, Bell blames unfavourable public policy and regulatory conditions for the cuts.

An internal memo from Bell Media’s vice president of news, Richard Gray, distributed to staff Wednesday morning and obtained by The Canadian Press, outlined some of the details of the plan. That includes “moving to a single newsroom approach across brands, allowing for greater collaboration and efficiency.”

Bell executive vice president and chief legal regulatory officer Robert Malcolmson told The Canadian Press that Bell’s media branch “can’t afford” to continue operating with various brands like CTV National News, BNN, CP24 and other local TV and radio stations.

However, Bell reported in its Q1 2023 earnings that its media branch had operating revenues of $780 million and costs of $648 million, leaving it with an adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) of $132 million.

In an open letter published by Bell Canada president and CEO Mirko Bibic, Bibic said the company expects to lose over $250 million in legacy phone revenues per year and that the company’s new operations have a $40 million annual operating loss.

Malcolmson went on to explain that Bell is consolidating news gathering and delivery, telling The Canadian Press that the company was “combining the news production function in a horizontal way so that you have one common platform that is serving news to the relevant outlet from one management team.”

Bell will shutter 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 and sell Hamilton’s AM Radio 1150 and AM 820, and Windsor’s AM 580 to an undisclosed third party subject to CRTC approval.

Bell is also cutting management positions, leaving 20 percent fewer executives compared to 2020.

In another memo, Bell Media president Wade Oosterman said the company would inform affected staff this week. Oosterman also blamed the “ongoing migration of advertising revenue to foreign digital platforms” and the continuing shift from cable and satellite to digital streaming.

Bell hints at more layoffs to come

Malcolmson did not rule out further layoffs and blamed “relentless regulatory intervention” by the CRTC and federal government that prioritized lowering the cost of telecommunications services. However, Canada still has some of the most expensive wireless prices in the G7, and Bell has had no issue calling for regulatory intervention elsewhere, such as with the ongoing feud over wireless service on the TTC.

Moreover, Bell has a history of threatening to pull investment over what it considers to be unfavourable regulatory intervention. For example, Bell joined other telcos in threatening to pull rural investment in response to the CRTC’s wholesale rates decision in 2019. More recently, Bibic threatened “unintended consequences” if the government continued implementing regulations against the big carriers.

Malcolmson also took issue with the slow pace of Bill C-18, which would require companies like Google and Meta to pay Canadian outlets for news content, and Bill C-11, which would force platforms like Netflix and YouTube to contribute some Canadian revenue to Canadian production. Malcolmson said Bell has been waiting for years.

“The time for waiting for reform is over. Those reforms may never come so we have a responsibility to our shareholders and to our employees to make sure the business can be positioned for future growth and that means we have to make our cost structure make sense,” Malcolmson told The Canadian Press. “At some point, we have to say to ourselves, ‘Is it worth funding this?”

Source: The Canadian Press