It was a game of word association that no one wants to play. It was the answer to the question that no one really wanted to answer. The question?
What was your immediate reaction to the bankruptcy of CHCH Television? or Describe what happened at CHCH in one or two words.
The story, by now, is well publicized. CHCH TV , a Hamilton staple that just celebrated their 60th year on air was in deep trouble, hemorrhaging money and in a stunning turn of events on Friday, was basically turned on its ear. Blown out the door were 138 full time workers, another 29 part time people. About 50% of them might be hired back with "competitive wages", according to the company Channel Zero. 80 hours of local television would be scaled back to 17. 5. Do the math and you see over a 75% reduction in local content. Safe to say those who will be welcomed back will see their roles reduced.
Those not welcome back? A veritable who's who of Hamilton broadcasting. Men and women woven into the steel fabric of the city for as long as you can remember.
Matt Hayes, Ken Welch, Scott Urqhart, Lauran Sabourin, Mark Hebscher, Lori DeAngelis. Can you imagine a CHCH TV without these dominant personalities? These are people who were your TV friends, and were faces and voices that you connected with. How hard will it be to turn on the television and not see Matt Hayes, and his smiling face not giving you the weather, or to seen Ken Welch deliver the sports in his own droll way, a man who was established in the Hamilton community and gave local sports a boost it would not have otherwise got?
I will miss local issues show Square Off because it provided current events issues and debates. I will miss the rapid fire content of Sportsline with Mark Hebscher and Bubba O'Neill. I will miss the morning show that I tuned into regularly, now scaled back significantly. Bob Cowan, Annette Hamm, Lori DeAngelis, Tim Bolen, Jaclyn Colville and Brian Wood were the staples of that show. How many will we see in the new 2 hour model and how much local content will be delivered? How on earth do you service Hamilton, Halton and Niagara with 17.5 hours of local news? That is a population of over a million people. How will their stories be told? Niagara has been serviced with news by Lauran Sabarin and her camera man. Both were not asked to return. Will we just pretend that there is no news in Niagara to deliver?
Probably the cruelest fact is the way the news got delivered. Extra money deposited into an account covering up to date pay and vacation pay. A sudden cancelling of news programming on Friday and a hastily arranged statement by the CEO delivered live on the TV station. It would be the only local programming delivered after the 4:00 hour. Who cancels news programs for one day anyways? The news should never stop, even when its the television station itself making the news. A declaration of bankruptcy delivered the most punishing blow. It provided a back door escape route from paying loyal employees severance pay.
While the news itself on Friday was stunning, the financial issues plaguing the station and the company were likely not exactly a shock to all involved. Delivering 80 hours of local news programming a week is a costly venture, and that was even with a lot of the news cycle repeated, and a lot of the news canned. Quite frankly the format was not working to what it should be and delivering local news was an increasingly expensive expenditure. The national advertising sponsors were not there, and really it was a tough model for a national company to get behind. A national sponsor for a TV station that promised local is a bit of an oxymoron.
The CRTC has done the local model no favours either. Scrapping a $5M local television fund for stations like CHCH removed a significant revenue stream, one that could not be made up no matter how much ad time Hamilton staple John Savidis bought, or how much air time the erstwhile Frank D'Angelo could buy. The CRTC's recent decision to basically open the doors to U.S. advertising for the upcoming SuperBowls on CTV sent Canadian advertisers scattering and was one of the factors that saw Bell reduced their own work force, with the media division taking a particularly large hit.
I will leave the financials, quite frankly, to those better equipped to do it. All I know is that a lot of good people, good at their jobs, some you saw as friendly faces on TV and many you did not see behind the scenes are either no longer gainfully employed or not employed at the same level.
I will say that there was lots of nostalgia for CHCH. Fond memories of local icons Norm Marshall, Dick Beddoes, Dan MacLean and Connie Smith were duly. Shows like Tiny Talent Time were fondly remembered, as were the old OUAA Game of the Week, a relationship by the way left in the lurch. The OUA just had signed a new agreement with CHCH. What happens now? Maybe that was the problem. Nostalgia, while nice, did not pay the bills. Perhaps people were remembering the golden age of CHCH while paying lip service to the current model.
So CHCH will debut a newer, sleeker model on Tuesday. 17.5 hours of local content is enough to give you a 6pm newscast, an 11 pm newscast cut down to 30 minutes and a truncated morning show from 7-9am. The hope now is that one of the big cable companies sees some viability in a sleeker model and looks to snap it up at a bargain bin rate. Maybe then they can increase the local presence, and give local news a chance because local programming and news is dying on the vine, and it does not have to be that way.
CHCH just celebrated their 60th anniversary of broadcasting not so long ago. How many more anniversaries will be commemorated?
Tuesday December 15th CHCH will debut not only their new format, but their new reality. How long until 17.5 hours of local programming becomes zero?
Of all the questions asked in this blog, and there were many, that is the most important one.
Great coverage and articles by The Spectator helped in this blog, Here are the two main ones.